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Doctors: A Second Opinion
Mom with a View

Doctors: A Second Opinion

Doctors run a very high risk of becoming indifferent to the pain and humanity of their patients.


I have had the dubious honor recently of spending a lot of time with many different doctors. Like all human beings, they run the gamut from the compassionate to the cold, the thoughtful to the uncaring, the competent to the …well, thank God, it’s all in the Almighty’s hands and not some of theirs!

I’ve been observing and listening and pondering the meaning of the statement in the Talmud that “The best of doctors are going to 'gehinnom' -- hell." I always assumed it was an ego thing. I always thought that the biggest risk to doctors was thinking that they are the arbiters of life and death, of thinking that they're God, instead of just His messengers of healing How many stories have we all heard where doctors have given up and yet a disease has been cured, a catastrophic outcome averted.

Like I said, of course every doctor is different. Some have humility (I personally like the ones that consult with their colleagues before rendering a diagnosis or prescribing a treatment). Some recognize a power greater than theirs. Some even recite Maimonides' Prayer for the Physician, a clear statement of the limitations of their role and the omnipotence of the Almighty. The Talmud doesn’t say "all" doctors.

And anyway, I’ve recently changed my thinking. I have a new thought, perhaps insight, into why I think the Talmud suggests such an ignoble fate for physicians. It’s not about ego. I think it’s about indifference. When the world was destroyed at the time of the flood it was due to indifference, a completely lack of caring about others. The world cannot endure this way.

Doctors run a very high risk of this deterioration of character. Patients become numbers to them, statistics to analyze; bleak diagnoses just words on a chart. Some cavalierly deliver devastating news -- “The chances of survival are about 20%...” “I thought I mentioned that the treatment will leave her with brain damage.” -- in between comments about the weather and chitchat about their children and spouses.

Perhaps they have to callous themselves to the trauma they see, to the pain they inflict, in order to survive. Perhaps if they allowed themselves to enter into the humanity of the situation, they couldn’t bear it. Perhaps it would cloud their judgment. Perhaps.

But maybe the opposite is true. Maybe if they didn’t allow their first cadaver to inure them to death, they’d be deeper human beings. Maybe they’d be more compassionate. Maybe they’d fight harder for the survival of their patients or to give hope to their loved ones.

I don’t know. I don’t know how to determine which path produces better doctors. Maybe it’s a price they have to pay to be competent at their profession.

But I do know for sure which road leads to a better human being, which way creates a closer connection with the Almighty, which is the trait worth striving for – and which doctor I’d rather see!

March 13, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 28

(28) , March 21, 2010 2:48 AM

baruch dayan emes

Emuna, We are all so saddened by the loss of your granddaughter. You should be comforted :(

(27) Anonymous, March 19, 2010 3:27 AM

Doctors are members of the human race and have their talents and their faults. Whenever I go to a doctor, I know how many years of their life they spent studying medicine, the rigorous residencies they endured and the crazy life many of them lead. But, what impresses me MOST of all about a physician, is their willingness to listen about what I perceive is wrong with me, to assuage my fears, and to show concern for me as if I was a part of their own family. If a doctor does not possess those traits, I cannot believe he can cure me or help me. Like human beings who are kind, thoughtful, caring and sympathetic, there are those individuals who are cold, cruel and apathetic. A medical degree is not a certificate given for humane behavior - although that should be part of it too

(26) Anonymous, March 19, 2010 2:26 AM

Regardless of my personal response to Mrs. Braverman's critique of doctors in general, I wanted to say how deeply sorry I am for the pain she has gone through which has caused her to write such a passionate essay in response to her experience.

(25) EG, March 19, 2010 1:00 AM

Lawyers are worse

Am not a doctor but work with them and with least the doctors are there to treat the disease...most of the lawyers rub the clients blind...and I'm not allowed to say anything. Compared to the lawyers, the doctors are angels.

(24) Anonymous, March 18, 2010 12:50 PM

this article emanates from the author's experience

I don't think it was Mrs. Braverman's intention to write-off all doctors as callous. She is simply expressing her opinion from a place of personal pain. To me, it seems that all those physicians who read this article are kind and dedicated people. They should serve as role models for their less sensitive colleagues. No person going through personal trauma should have salt rubbed into their wound by the person whose job it is to help them.

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