Not all of the people who’ve helped me stay healthy over the years have worked in the straightjacket of billing code American healthcare. In spite of the long hours/little sleep brainwashing regimen that’s inflicted on them as an initiatory rite of passage, the best have burst apart their scientific straightjacket with a healthy dose of common sense: Primarily with the abilities to (1) listen and (2) treat the person instead of a symptom or two from a collection that probably includes things outside their specialty. And they do this in spite of a compensation system that for too many years appeared to reward quantity of patients over quality of care.

Doctors can be people, too.
I remember one, who’s since become a personal friend, who picked up the message I left with his answering service late on a Christmas Eve. I was 800 miles away and suffering an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug. He tracked me down and returned my call at 10:30 p.m. that night. We resolved my problem in short order. But I’ve never forgotten his patient effort, sympathetic ear and caring follow-up – as well as my severe reaction to sulfa drugs.

And there’s another MD, who asks open-ended questions. Then he listens. And responds to what I’ve said – and to what I meant, as well. And before he starts recommending expensive remedies with market research-driven names, asks about my diet and exercise habits. His regular volunteer work in third-world countries informs his recommendations. In just about every case where he’s had to treat me for some issue, it’s been with non-pharmaceutical products I can pick up in nearly any store. And they work.

Then there’s the organic chemist who developed the supplements I use. He uses a different set of eyes to look at the human system in a way that’s not limited by the blinders of allopathic Western medicine. Not only has he moved his ideas from the lab to preventive medicine, but he’s a caregiver who actually wants to interact and meet the people using his supplements. I had a wonderful lunch with him a few weeks back. And he’s the person who initiated the contact!

I’ve been lucky.
Even when I’ve had to deal with the clichéd specialists who populate film and television [Paddy Chayefsky’s Hospital is my all-time favorite.*] I’ve encountered knowledgeable people who compensate for the doctors’ blind spots –
An orthopedist correctly forecast the healing time and progress of my broken foot. Never once did he talk about the considerably longer healing time for the soft tissue around it. My thanks go to a dancer, a yoga teacher and several friends who’d suffered similar injuries through the years. What’s interesting is that they reported the same lack of full disclosure from their orthopedic specialists, as well.
Then there’s the anesthesiologist at a Raleigh-area hospital. I’m generally pretty-laid back and quiet about other people’s failings. After all, we’ve all got our own strengths and weaknesses. Having said that, this man’s arrogance and rudeness caused me to write a two-page single-spaced letter to the hospital administration. I received a perfunctory response that had obviously been cleared by their legal team. A good friend who’s a hospital chaplain said that there are lots like him, but as long as they’re good at what they do, don’t worry about their rudeness, because they do their best work while we’re unconscious. I survived. But – his rudeness also meant he wasn’t listening to me. I have other friends who’ve had similar experiences with other anesthesiologists. It scares me.

* The Hospital is an Oscar-winning film that starred George C. Scott, Diana Rigg and Barnard Hughes. While I’ll admit a bias in favor of anything Chayefsky wrote, Hospital is among his best (
Chayefsky also wrote the very prescient and Oscar-winning Network, introducing us to Howard Beale: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (