Article by Dr. Landrum
"The real and desperately required job of the physician in today's world--and more emphatically as the future is bearing upon us all--is that of "healer".
A.T. Still spoke of the need to gain a patient's confidence in order to promote a process of healing.
Our medical era has been given to ever-rising encomiums of praise to the wonders of technological advancements. But the human resource of caring for this world and our fellow inhabitants is too often given a poetic nod and assigned a less pragmatic value. Because of this, it has now become our supreme challenge and sober opportunity to return relevance to the first-principles of the heart, in our motivation in this work we so earnestly approach. As physicians, we are at the diamond-point of encountering life and death. At times, it falls to us to interpret not merely that technical data of the medical mechanism, but also those wider understandings that inform of truth and common cause to the patients we seek to serve.
In my own life, this work has shown me through caverns of wonder in the science and art of medicine. Yet it has most familiarly returned me to my roots of identifying and treating essential human suffering.
Rather than finding myself somehow exalted in my role through the years, I find myself more broken, more needy, more convicted of that common thread that holds us so tentatively together on this wonderful but embattled earth.
As I write these thoughts, there is a sense of "midstream" in my career, but with enough experience to reflect upon, that I can identify with the recollections of those in our number who have traversed the trail and have their own story to tell.
That common thread of "healer" is the strength of the tapestry. It is possible, through the years, that we can become persuaded of less than who we really are and what we have to give.
As an intern, there is the indelible memory of a patient who I had managed for a month, after I had originally admitted him through the Naval hospital ER, with complaints of abdominal pain. He was a retired Navy Chief, spare of words and big of heart. He was dying of pancreatic cancer. As I approached him in morning rounds, I was feeling a sadness beyond usual. He waved my stethoscope away. Taking my hand into his burly grasp, he pulled me close. With tears welling in his eyes, he looked deeply at me. Then came the simple words I will never forget: "Thank you, God, for this fine physician".
Then, there was the mother of a four-year-old girl who was brought with a history of sixteen separate ear infections, since the age of nineteen months. The mother was a young ICU nurse. She explained that she had tried everything she knew: antibiotics, ear tubes, speech therapy, etc. The image I most recall was the pleading look, on a face etched with exhaustion. The child was intelligent, but withdrawn and poorly verbal. She did not look at me. She only interacted with her mother. Fluid levels in her ears were full. I treated her Osteopathically. In four visits, the fluid levels were resolved. Her speech therapist, not knowing of my treatment, was mystified as to why this child was becoming verbal, no longer needing her help. Then, one day, the little girl came with her little brother. He, too, needed some treatment. As I was hamming it up for this new little patient, there was suddenly a peal of laughter. I turned to its source--the little girl was looking at me and smiling... "You'll like my doctor. He's a good doctor", she said to her brother.
Naturally, in the course of our efforts, we forget more of these accounts than we remember. But the knowing that we have done our part, often with a strength outside of ourselves, lets us rest at the end of the day.
There is inevitably a tempering process which follows our efforts, like a great equalizer. It is assigned to disinvest us of lesser dreams. We no longer have the false luxury of self-absorption, which we once took for granted. We are no longer left to be merely medical experts, with the robes of outward respectability flowing around us without creases.
Today, I am less impressed with myself than I was at our white-coat ceremony during that first year in medical school. Yet, as though from a distance, the landscape of career stretches behind me with the cards, letters, commentaries and collective evidences that somehow, through it all, record contributions into the human heart as well as into the medical record. I am more convinced that this is the object of our efforts, our shared sadness, our soaring victories. It is this that is more persuasive of permanence."
Michael A. Landrum, D.O.