What do a blog writer and a doctor have in common?
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
My purpose for writing is the same as my purpose for practicing medicine. I love helping people. To understand this transition it’s important for you to peer into my past. Consider this an introduction to me and to my life's work. I used to be the lone kid in the corner watching and listening. You could see me hunched over on a high perch, gazing down across the crowd like a fledgling hawk scared to leave the nest. Admittedly, my personality shined more in one-on-one conversations and in small groups. Even as I grew into a more confident young adult who was often hanging out with friends and attending plenty of parties, I still had an eye and an ear fixated on the rest of the room. I have always been an keen observer and an intent listener.
I utilized these skills when I began training as a medical doctor where, matched with my compassion, these traits were celebrated and not looked at with skepticism or ridicule. I learned to use all my senses collectively to unearth all the health information I needed from my patients. (I didn't use taste, though I hear the urine of diabetics does actually taste sweet.) For example, hearing a patient cough may seem simple to the layman or bystander, but to me it was so much more. Coughs sound different if they originate from the throat because the vessel of resonance is more narrow, and the cough usually clears something blocking the upper airway. A lower lung cough is usually deeper in tone and can be triggered by any pulmonary pathology. Some coughs sound like a wet towel being ripped from a dry surface, while others are more reminiscent of a quick hit on a drummer’s muted high hat. Sometimes a patient clearing their throat means they have trouble swallowing, especially if they’ve had a neurological dysfunction such as a stroke. If I just delivered bad news such as a new cancer diagnosis, a cough may signify that the patient is becoming emotional or getting ‘choked up’. Smokers and people with acid reflux tend to have a mild chronic cough which may be either wet or dry.
Listening, watching, smelling, and being in sync with the energy in the room truly enhances the usefulness of all the medical training. In various contexts, a simple sign such as a cough, a limp, a change in body position, or inattention can lead to a topic of further investigation. I have been in small claustrophobic rooms with white sterile walls with thousands of patient’s and their families. I know people. I can see the outright fear, worry, or concern on their faces. I hear the tremble in their voices, when deep down they know something is wrong. And, I’m the guy who sees that fear or hears inner sadness, and I address it. It usually takes nothing more than good timing and a gentle statement such as, “ You seem a bit worried. Are you ok? What worries you? How can I help?”
Physicians are given a unique permission to pry deeply into the lives of others without much resistance. These views into humanity; into the soul, produce some quite peculiar perspectives. I’m sure accountants, financial advisors, and lawyers get similarly intimate details of a person’s life. We are all granted the ability to see the intricacies of another’s existence and by contrast we can evaluate our own life experiences. Any friend, family member, or acquaintance can look at the situation of another person and ask, “what would I do if I were them?” but most on-lookers don’t know the true details which people in these select few positions are privy to. It is simply impossible to engage with people on such an intimate level without learning tons about your own needs, wants, habits, and family life. As a physician I feel particularly driven to share some of the general observations I have made. Hopefully some of my commentary can teach readers something about their own lives as well.
Some of the personal qualities which made me a successful student and led me down the path to medicine would also allow be to be a good writer. I am committed to listening, watching, and learning new things in many aspect of life. My interests vary from self improvement and success training to study habits, race relations, music, dancing, and of course medical topics. Becoming a physician has amplified my need for life long learning, and that desire has since spilled over to my other endeavors. I am optimistic that sharing what I’ve learned will stimulate growth and life enrichment for myself and my readers.
At best, my roll as a physician touches the lives of hundreds of people daily. My roll as a writer, blogger, and coach will allow me to aid many more… and that's the key. My daily medical progress notes with all the data and detail just get archived in a database of medical records. My daily or weekly blog posts may be destined for a similar fate, but the internet always remembers. A decade from now, some awkward teen could stumble across a story I wrote yesterday and, it could change his life. If I could touch the lives of hundreds of people with some of my writing each day that will surely do just as much good as laying my hands on a few patients.
For those who know me best this point is the most obvious: I really enjoy helping people better themselves. That is by far the strongest factor which motivated me to become a physician. It is extremely gratifying to unpack a person's emotional, psychological, or physical pain with the intent to learn and heal. Listening alone can change lives. I’ve seen it with some of my friends and some of my highly depressed or anxious patients. Sometimes only minor tips and reminders are enough to change the course of a person’s life, by relieving physical ailments or by limiting psychological stresses. Unfortunately, as a physician, my time is limited. I can only visit with a few patient’s each day while truly listening and developing personalized plans of care. Strong doctor’s recommendations come from a trustful relationship, one built on understanding and advocacy. Though writing books and blog posts are far less personal, more people will be able to learn, taking only what they can benefit from, leaving the rest. I can still give doctor’s orders, but ultimately you as a reader have to learn which directions and which prescriptions are right for you. It can be difficult learning to become introspective and to think critically. Developing a course of action can be even tougher. Let me walk you through the processes of self discovery and self improvement. Take my hand. I am here for you my people.
Until next time my people.