From trusted family doctors to silent white walls

The face of health care in today’s world is unfamiliar to me in many ways. When I was growing up, the family doctor was a well-known and respected member of the community. Patients trusted their doctor to help them navigate life’s challenges – the loss of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, a complicated pregnancy, or depression caused by life’s stresses.

The physician knew their patients, and the patients knew them – reliable and trustworthy, someone to count on. They play a vital role in maintaining one’s health in a changing world. The doctors took the time to listen to their patients’ stories because they understood that what happened outside the examination room had a significant impact on their patients’ health and was essential for an accurate diagnosis. Inside those four walls, patients often shared experiences and emotions they wouldn’t tell anyone else. The doctor-patient relationship was strong and based on trust.

Fast forward to today, where medicine is practiced in the corporate hustle and bustle. Few independent family medicine practices remain, and most medical practitioners can’t practice without corporate health administrators dictating how they should conduct medicine. Patients are rushed in and out of examination rooms because no time can be wasted to keep the “cash flow” moving. So, what happens to a doctor who wants to hear their patient’s stories but is now rushing to get through the allotted 12-minute appointment? By the end of the day, the physician is emotionally drained, and patients leave feeling unheard and underserved.

Being present, bearing witness, absorbing, and then reacting to a patient’s story is fundamental in building trust between patient and physician. Here are my thoughts on the importance of narrative medicine in today’s disjointed health care system, where patients and doctors seem to have secondary roles.

Stark white walls

Sitting in a room with white walls,
a patient is trapped in time,
enclosed within a bubble of fear.

If these walls could speak,
would they tell tales
of indifference to the patient’s narrative?
A narrative filled with pain and stress,
hardships and struggles?

Do these stark white walls witness
the physician’s gaze
fixed on the lifeless screen
of technology,
rather than on
the tears rolling down
a patient’s cheek?

Words devoid of emotion
typed into charts,
keyboard keys clicking away …
so much left undiscovered,
so much left unsaid.

White coats and charts
engaging in an unspoken dance,
but when does the patient’s narrative
get a chance
to step in
and join this invisible dance?

Yearning for ears that genuinely care,
a patient’s narrative gets lost
in the labyrinth of codes and fees,
in the swirling currents
of credits and debits.

In this sterile white room,
words remain unspoken,
unheard …
lost in the silence
that deafens the spirit.

Whispers of pain
are faint echoes
of truths concealed,
never allowed to break free.

sit with me,
listen to my words,
hear my story,
truly see me,
and you will come
to know me,
and I will come to know you.

For in the act of listening,
understanding is born
in this sacred space,
and a healing partnership
is forged.

I will know that I
do not face these
challenges alone,
and you will rediscover
the true humanity within you.

Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate. 

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