Health & Fitness

Your sadistic doctor could just be sick


Doctors stand a high risk of addiction to prescription drugs and indeed alcoholism. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Qn: “Isn’t there a better way doctors could communicate diagnosis results to their patients? I find most of them blunt and sadistic in the manner they break news to patients about critical conditions such as cancer”

I must encourage you to hold the view that you have expressed, but will also inform you that there are many doctors who are able to communicate good and bad news to patients with compassion and accuracy. As you must know, there are some good and some bad doctors. Indeed, all professionals have some very good and some not so good experts. Sadly, most of us tend to judge a profession by giving examples from poor encounters with the professionals. It is often true that the good and competent ones are taken for granted as simply doing their work as they should be. In a sense, the most noise comes from the emptiest tins!

Here is an example of a doctor who did badly because of ill health.

As a young medical student, a professor who was teaching us at a clinic in the hospital got angry with a patient he had been treating. We were alarmed when our teacher, in the presence of other staff and patients told the man to pay up the money he owed, because he could not have circumcised himself. Young as we were, shock and horror went down our spines as the nurses and patients around us started to complain that our teacher had been rude to a patient. We knew the teacher was wrong but we could not speak against him.

This was the first of a number of incidents that built up over a few months and led to the diagnosis of a brain tumour on the front part of our teacher’s brain.

Our professor was known for his kind and gentle manner. Soon after the incident with the circumcision man, he, again out of character shouted at a nurse in charge of the clinic for no apparent reason. He also slapped a staff nurse in theatre “for staring at him”. He also seemed absent minded and muddled at times, but this we attributed to him being “like a typical absent minded professor”.

He then changed in a way that none had expected. He became “born again” and took the Holy Bible to wherever he went. Before he saw a patient, he prayed. Before theatre he prayed. He also prayed before teaching us. This was very funny.

He had been a smartly dressed man who chose his suits, ties and shirts with great care. This also changed and he begun to neglect his appearance. He even grew an untidy beard.

It was when he started drinking that all knew that our teacher had but “lost it”. A few beers led to bizarre behaviour. He would miss the toilet and pass urine in the street. When he got an epileptic fit, the neurosurgeon who was his friend was called in and a tumour (Meningioma) was easily removed and six months later we got our old teacher back.

A slowly growing tumour had changed our good, gentle, smart and clever teacher into a monster.

What are the chances that some of the doctors you talk about could be going through a problem of one sort of another.

The matter of physician health has now taken centre stage in many parts of the world. It is known, for example, that doctors all over the world have poorer mental health outcomes than their patients. Put another way, if you are a doctor and suffer from depression, the outcome of treating you is worse than if you were not a doctor. Also, the risk of suicide is higher in doctors than it is for the general population.

Doctors stand a high risk of addiction to prescription drugs and indeed alcoholism. It is in the interest of both society and doctors to look into the well-being of doctors. Sick doctors are bad to and for patients.

The regulators have the duty and mandate to get doctors into care without punishing them. The Kenya Medical Association takes doctors’ health very seriously.

Now that you know that doctors are but mere human beings, would you consider those without compassion to their patients for further training or treatment? Their unacceptable behaviour could be due to either inadequate training or as in the case of my teacher, poor health.