When Kindness Heals Better Than a Pill

We all know how complicated our healthcare system has become in our country. Many of us older folks remember the days when the doctor came to the house instead of the sick person going to the doctor’s office. In the little town in which I grew up, “Doctor Jim” showed up at your door when a family member was ill. I remember having the flu as a little girl and, after Doctor Jim examined me, handed my mother the pills I needed and gave me a purple lollypop, he left the room briefly. I repaid his kindness by getting out of bed and rooting through his bag–and breaking his thermometer! Panicked, I scooped up as much of the quivering mercury as I could with the broken glass and threw everything back in his bag.

But that was a long time ago, and now, doctors and nurses are forced to spend only a small amount of time with their patients. It’s hard on the patients, but I believe it’s hard on the medical people as well; knowing that they are under the gun to get everything done quickly. They probably feel that they would prefer having more time, and I’m sure that the patients would as well. Many of the doctors appear gruff and hurried to the patients; whether they are gruff by nature or just trying to work within the given time frame, it makes the patients feel more anxious and worried.

I recently visited a dear friend of ours in the hospital. He shared a room with another man, and as we visited, I couldn’t help hearing how demanding he was to the nurses: “gimme this, gimme that, I want ice cream,” and so on. I related this to my best friend who had been a nurse for years. She told me that the hospitals now are being forced to provide better “customer service” to patients. This means that, along with all the many things a nurse has to do for each patient (and not enough time to do even the essentials), they are also expected to be waitresses as well! Also, hospitals have cut back on nurses’ aids, which adds more to the nurses’ duties.

However, when you get a bad diagnosis, things are different. Last spring when I was diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, which is the non-invasive type of breast cancer that usually only requires a lumpectomy to remove the affected area), I was invited to the local hospital for a “cancer conference.” I was still in shock from the diagnosis, and I walked into the hospital to meet with a surgeon, an oncologist, a social worker and someone from Billing.

I was first given a little pink bag, in which was a pink notebook (for recording all my ‘thoughts and feelings’), a light-green scarf, a thin book (also pink) describing my diagnosis and how to deal with it, some candy and a box of tissues. This “cancer goodie bag” was somehow supposed to cheer me up for having cancer. The surgeon told me what type of surgery would be done, the oncologist told me what my survival odds were with a lumpectomy vs. having a double mastectomy “just to be on the safe side, and hey! That would mean no follow-up radiation or Tamoxifan!” The social worker told me what kind of “cancer survival group” I could attend, and the gal from Billing gave me an estimate of how much this was going to cost—let’s just say that for the same amount I could probably have had a nice long vacation in Kauai.

I walked out of there feeling worse than I did walking in. After some research and a different and wonderful surgeon, I had the lumpectomy done, and was advised to have followup radiation and Tamoxifan. I refused both, and it turned out that I needed neither; the followup mammogram was clear.

Here’s the difference between this surgeon and the “cancer committee” I first met with: my surgeon was a terrific woman who had years of experience with breast cancer. She was down-to-earth, funny, and most of all, gave me all the time I needed. She does a great deal of charity work for the immigrants in her area, and she is always kind and truthful. She believes in the power of positive thinking, Reiki, meditation and kindness. She advised me to write down a note for her to read aloud to me just as I was waking up from the operation. The note I asked her to read said: “You’re going to be fine; I got all the cancer, and you are going to recover from this beautifully.”

And the bill? We had told her up front that we had no insurance, and a realistic price was agreed upon as well as a workable payment plan. She was kindness itself, and I felt better than I had in weeks. Just before the surgery began and the anesthesiologist was administering the anesthesia, she leaned down to me and said, “Ok, you’re going to sleep now and dream of George Clooney.” I fought the drugs long enough to say, “no, not him–*Jeffrey Dean Morgan!” She laughed, and then said, “all right, Jeffrey Dean Morgan it is.”

And here I am four months later, cancer-free. I realize that anything can happen, but when I look back at my own experience, I know that what helped me the most was my surgeon’s kindness, understanding and the time she spent with me. That sincere kindness did more good for me than any amount of radiation therapy or pills.

As the Hippocratic oath that all doctors must take before becoming doctors says, “**First, do no harm.” To this I would also add, “be kind. You are working on a human being just like yourself.”

*Look him up, he’s a doll.

**”It is a popular misconception that the phrase “First do no harm” is a part of the Hippocratic oath. Strictly speaking, the phrase does not appear in the oath, although the oath does contain “Also I will, according to my ability and judgment, prescribe a regimen for the health of the sick; but I will utterly reject harm and mischief”….

Another equivalent phrase is found in Epidemics, Book I, of the Hippocratic school: “Practice two things in your dealings with disease: either help or do not harm the patient”. The exact phrase is believed to have originated with the 19th-century surgeon Thomas Inman.”


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