Tomlin Paul | Growing old with your family doctor
"Doc, I remember when you started out at that other location. You know, I've been with you ever since?!" beams my 62-year-old patient. She recalls some of the major challenges to her health and how we battled through them.
Her heartfelt reflection of our journey as doctor and patient strikes a note in my mind that we are both ageing together in sickness and in health.
A GOOD MARRIAGE
As you visit your family doctor year after year, the fuel for that relationship is similar to what holds a good marriage together. After the initial newness of living together wears off, couples in good marriages are really enjoying the journey of growing old together. Or, at least, should be! In this journey there is trust. Come what may, I know that we can work on it together.
The hundreds of decisions I make each week as I care for patients, from ordering tests to choosing a drug to even saying, "Just wait and let me see you again next week", won't get anywhere if my patients did not trust my judgement.
Then there is confidentiality and, at the same time, openness. "You know, I can tell my doctor anything and I know he will deal with it!" Capping all of this is the commitment to help and to stay the course.
THE FAMILY DOCTOR
When it works, the family doctor's office is like a special home where you can seek help and have a continuing relationship with the provider of such help. Sometimes the help is for big problems like a life-threatening cancer or a stroke. Some days it's because "I am just tired of the boss pressuring me and I need to talk".
As you grow older, your doctor gets a deeper insight into your life, your fears, your relationships, the way you deal with stuff and your future goals. All of which gives us a chance to treat the whole person.
Hippocrates (460 BC-377 BC), the father of medicine, said that "It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has." Read that line again. It wasn't a typo! So, added to those huge medical textbooks I refer to are the many hundreds of 'books' printed in my mind of the life story of the patients that I have seen over the years.
You can't ignore the fact that having stayed so long with your family doctor that they, too, have aged over the years. Of course, some of my patients have the gift of compliment and tell me, "but doc, you don't look a day older from you started at that other location". That's really a signal to check their eyes for cataracts - not uncommon with ageing! But the value of ageing together is simply a better understanding from both sides. The insights gained should be used throughout the journey to help you have a good life, and, when that time comes, a good end. It's all in the contract of a family doctor.
- Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston. Email: email@example.com