Hilde M Buiting, PhD, started her career as a researcher in 2005 and now works in a field that crosses palliative care and oncology. In 2015, she started a second study, medicine. In a poem that is part of this post, Hilde describes a conversation she held with her neighbour.
Every healthcare professional has their personal history which, to a certain extent, explains how they treat and approach their patients, which medical disciplines they eventually choose, their passion in their work, and how they experience their disease when they will be confronted with a disease themselves. For patients, their life story determines, up to a point, how they will eventually experience and approach their disease too.
Although such facts cannot be neglected in evidence-based medicine it does show how delicate the process of a disease experience can be, and how the interaction with doctors and patients can influence this process to a great extent. For me, this is what makes medicine such a beautiful discipline; it shows the hidden but, at the same time, the present dimension of humanity.
Unfortunately, in actual medical practice, time pressure can be an obstacle for enduring conversations; this is also acknowledged by many healthcare professionals. In private, personal situations, time pressure is often not, or less of an issue. Obviously, this also holds for healthcare professionals themselves.
Previous studies have shown that such personal experiences may impact their approach towards subsequent patients they take care of. I am a medical scholar, but I have spoken to many patients during my research in the past 15 years. Yet, when my neighbour told me he was diagnosed with some form of metastatic cancer, and when I noticed how he approached this diagnosis, things changed to a certain extent. I was somewhat surprised how he, someone who was always extremely assertive, changed into a rather passive patient preferring a paternalistic approach to his treatment. Although he reported that he had accepted his diagnosis, I at the same observed some form of helplessness and less autonomy than before. I am not completely sure whether I was right or not. I do not want to know this anymore. I simply would like to describe what I noticed in a poem.
This conversation, in hindsight, appeared to be the last time I spoke to my neighbour before he died.
A personal situation
Carefully, may be better now
Towards the window, shoving a couple of tiny sculptures aside,
Glaring at me,
Not as always;
I miss some playfulness in his stabbing, wise, green eyes,
Deeply fallen back, wrinkly and darkly surrounded
Carefully may be better now
Illuminating about his metastases, the vertebra
Talking about this seems already hurting
Seeing this, he admitting it, making it even more excruciating
Almost politely, he resembles now,
Thanking me for visiting
This is a severely ill cancer patient,
Not one of my oldest neighbours anymore
Always using the quote
‘Dearest, each day needs to be celebrated’
He did not
Even now trying to make tiny jokes,
Through which painful situations disappear instantly
Being happy to be at home again, and
Realizing that death is nearing
Walking away from this memorable window, and
Realizing that personal situations
Keeping in mind the wise lesson
This man taught me, which is
- Read two earlier posts by Dr Hilde Buiting on the EAPC blog: Living longer with incurable cancer. The impact of relationships on quality of life during Corona times.
- To contact Hilde, please leave a comment below.
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