The Social Side of Medicine

November 2, 2009 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

With the passion of a poet and the knowledge of a studied scientist, the surgeon explained the process of transplanting a kidney from our new donor friend into my father. I had heard surgeries described before, and not just from “ER.” But this one was different. Maybe because my father’s life seemed on the line. Maybe because of the emotions carried in through the donation process. I don’t know. But it seemed this surgeon was about to enter the World Championships of organ transplants. Like every surgery she performed in her career had lead her to this one – and she was bound to win the gold medal.

Health Care As Commodity

My father had been on kidney dialysis for more than two years. I tried to stay as involved and aware as I could from 1500 miles away, though I know I could have done much more. I learned a great deal through the process, between talking with Mom and Dad, reading what I could online about nephrology, and occasional visits to the dialysis center.

I learned mostly that health care is a commodity. It’s a service, yes, but most often it’s delivered – or denied – like a highly valued commodity. I had my own experiences along the way in this health care market. And I began to accept that fact, both as a realist and as a long-term investor with a personal stake.

It is Social, Whether We Socialize It or Not

It’s frustrating when you’re sick, or when someone you love is stricken, and your care options are presented with the appeal of a Morningstar audit. No, it’s not fair to burden health care workers with the need to make meaningful connections with dozens of patients. But the reality is that health care – from a patient’s perspective – is a social, emotional and physical investment. That it’s delivered as a monetized commodity is a fact created by health care insurance providers who need to quantify care to realize profits.

But I saw the non-commodity side – and I am willing to bet that it’s still profitable. I was fortunate to spend some time around hospitals and health care professionals (and only a fraction of the time my parents spent) this summer. Fortunate because I saw the Social side of Medicine as much as the commodity kind.

The organ-transplant surgeon won her gold medal – I will never forget her for that. I will also remember and celebrate her passion for her social work. It gave her an unmatched ability to communicate far more than the science of her endeavor. She understood our need for more than just information and analysis. Through her powerful delivery, she made an emotional and loving connection – and the care commodity came with it.

Not every medical professional gets to create a miracle like that of a successful organ transplant. But living this process (and writing about it) recalls memories of countless visits to pediatricians when my kids were tots. From ear infections to more ear infections, my children introduced my wife and I to many pediatrics pros. And I recall with favor those who understood the social while delivering the commodity.

You can’t pressure every one in health care to recognize and work for your emotional well-being with the same passionate pursuit. But you can search for those who do, ask to see them again, and thank them for their incredible efforts.

What have been your recent and past experiences with Social Medicine?


Entry filed under: Communications, Personal, Writing.

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