When Harcourt bought CHANGE OF HEART: The Bypass Experience, my book interviewing 1100 veterans of coronary bypass surgery, I was elated. Flush with my success, I tried to convince them to publish my next book interviewing 100 doctors who were veterans of coronary bypass surgery. “Nobody will be interested,” retorted the editor. But he was wrong. Robert Klitzman’s important new book, WHEN DOCTORS BECOME PATIENTS, proved just how wrong one editor can be. Klitzman interviewed 70 physicians, male and female, young and old—from 25 to 87, all victimized by a variety of chronic and acute diseases including lymphoma, breast cancer, skin cancer, Huntington’s disease, heart attacks, depression, bipolar distress, and an overly high incidence of HIV. Whatever their illnesses were, disease was isolating. Even though their different illnesses mandated a variety of diagnoses, treatment, responses, and coping mechanisms, many sick doctors felt left on their doorsteps by calloused and unsympathetic colleagues. Since 34 percent of doctors in Klitzman’s study were HIV positive or suffered from frank AIDs, most opted for secrecy. But the four women physicians killed by metastatic cancer within a year after Klitzman finished his book also faced “peripheralization and discrimination.” One physician reporting that her colleagues “treated me as if I were dead.” Even if these doctor-patients wanted to talk to their physicians, communicating with physicians was a tough ball game. Here, the doctor who is sick confronts the same barriers as the non-doctor who wants to communicate with his or her physician. (Read the rest.)Actually the obstacles between physician-patients and their physicians are more difficult than one might imagine. In my own personal experience I have found that it is actually better when my physician forgets I am a doctor (which seems to be surprisingly easy for male docs taking care of female collegues!).
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