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“You should get treatment,” I say, though I feel like a hypocrite since there’s no one more skeptical of the medical profession than I am.
Papers sit on the table for her blood family and me to see, all going over the horrors and realities of chemotherapy and surgery. Diagnoses sit like life sentences on the top of each page.
Sometimes being on the inside of a massive system is a good thing. You learn things and find ways to navigate the system more efficiently. You learn what you need to say to get the services you need. You learn the keywords you need to say to get the person on the other end of the phone to realize that you know what you’re talking about.
For example, tech support. I used to work as a tech support technician, but after a little over a year of those mind-numbing phone calls, I packed my bags and ran for the hills to do more creative work, like digital marketing. However, in my jobs since being in tech support, there would still be times when I couldn’t solve my problems on my own and would need to call tech support.
For example, pleading for admin rights on a highly secured corporate laptop so that I could install Adobe applications without sacrificing several hours of the day battling to get the right technician on the phone who would be able to remote in and enter an administrator password. Or my personal favorite: Waiting four weeks for a computer to be imaged when I know from experience that it only takes 30 minutes to an hour—tops. However, I can understand that there might be several hundred computers in the queue to image ahead of mine, which could warrant a delay like that.
In those cases, I’d do my best not to be the jerk who goes “look, I used to work tech support, I know that it’ll only take five minutes tops to do this.” Instead, I’d try to connect with them, maintain politeness, and commiserate a bit since I know most of the technician’s calls that day have probably been password resets that take a bafflingly long amount of time for no good reason. Their days include a lot of yes, you do need to include capital letters and no, it can’t be the same password as one you’ve had in the last six months, and are you sure you didn’t change it and it might’ve slipped your mind?
After a few years of working in medicine, however, I don’t find it so easy to maintain that balance of understanding.
“It’s better to go through it, even if it is horribly painful and uncomfortable. They’re doing what’s best for you,” I say, trying to sound optimistic and persuasive.
I know—all too well—that there are countless “doctors” out there who collect their paychecks in the higher regions of six digits and care more about their awards and presentations than their patients. There are doctors with leadership roles who only see patients once a month. This is perfectly common. Conversely, there are absolutely still doctors who deeply care about their patients and work hard to do as much as they can. There are doctors who spend every day doing rounds, and even though they’re more focused on patients, they’re likely experiencing so much burnout and exhaustion that maybe they’re no more focused than that doctor who spends most of his time thinking about his next big talk at a fancy, international conference at a luxury resort.
I don’t know which of those physicians I’d rather have treating someone I see as a mother.
Over the past few years, I’ve connected more with my partner’s mother than I have my own mother. She’s an incredible woman, completely unselfish, always giving, always concerned, and always caring.
Next, I don’t know if all the drugs they’re pumping into her are truly all necessary or if they’re all going to help. I absolutely understand her skepticism that maybe some of those prescription bottles aren’t needed. Perhaps, some of the procedures really are just extra fluff for insurance companies to be billed for.
After all, I’ve helped out with a good number of hospital events with catering bills skyrocketing into the thousands, watching food being served, and wondering if the money for that was bled out from a patient’s pocket or their insurance company. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, going to a fancy reception and staring at your plastic cup of wine, thinking that this cheap wine was bought with the blood money from some poor soul coming to the institution for help. In my mind, there’s truly not a good reason for that profit to be going into a reception rather than for research or toward equipment that’ll directly improve patient care.
But then, you could also argue that without those nice little perks of working at a stressful job and getting to decompress at a nice reception every once in a while, then the sacrifices of the people who are working hard in the medical field might feel even more challenging. Of course, helping people is the greatest reward, but burnout is a real thing, and a nice event here and there might help offset the pressure a little.
I’m boiling down to the fact that there’s a great deal of gray morality when you look at anything—from a hospital using money for frivolous events or from a skeptic like me insisting treatment is the best option.
At the end of the day though, I fall back on the things I do know. I know a lot of survivors. I’m not an expert on the medical field, but I know enough that the seeds of skepticism are sown deeper in me than they are in others. Sure, I worked in medicine, I saw hospitals from the other side. Even so, when faced with diagnoses like cancer, I'll stand by the same opinion. That’s why, even though I feel like a bit of a hypocrite when I say “yes, you should get treatment,” I’ll still say it.