I was recently asked why I love medicine by a health care blog. They published what they could, but there is really more than my response to them revealed. I’d like to set the record straight.
We all grow up reading in school. A book is a pile of paper with words on it. But when viewed carefully and thoughtfully, it can stir the imagination, take you to faraway places and let you drift into the minds of others. In the words of Thomas Mann in Joseph in Egypt, books allow you to experience a barefoot walk “on the greenest of mosses.”
Patients are the Best Books
I first fell in love with medicine when I realized that patients, in a way, are like books. The look of their skin, the movement of their eyes, the tilt of their head, their posture and walk, they way they talk, how they shake your hand and what they tell you is all a part of their story. It is there for the reading.
In the field of men’s health, in which I specialize, I have come to realize that men are books that may be particularly difficult to open and read. Often the books are shut tight. They may even be locked. Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s the species, but this makes them hard to read. And, as a consequence, they barely or never get read (i.e. cared for).
My love for medicine grew further when I realized that the key to taking great care of men is figuring how to open the book. It’s there in all of its glory: you just need to figure out how to open it.
Here is a secret: You must be patient and you must listen. Men need to know that they can trust you, not only as a doctor, but also as a human being. Men need to know that you are on their side and honestly 12-minute office visits simply don’t cut it. By listening and observing, instead of dominating the conversation, you can take in the small signs that are otherwise missed, including the doorway conversations that can change everything.
But there’s another secret. Most women do not understand why a have a balsa wood surfboard hanging on the wall of my office. Guys get it. Having a real and palpable personality as a doctor helps patients trust you. And if they trust you, they start to relax. And if they relax, the book opens up, in all of its wonder and richness.
The stories of many famous lives have made great reading. But the stories of everyday lives make equally great books. The mystery, passion, sadness, joy, desires, struggles, hopes and dreams found in the best written books are far more illuminated and intense, magnified and distilled, in everyday life. As the artist Cezanne once said: “…there is a magnificent richness of color that animates nature.”