Friday, March 23, 2012
by PAULINE W. CHEN, M.D., Columnist
Several years ago, I was invited to give a lecture to a group of patients who had received organ transplants at the hospital where I was working. The evening started well — patients I had cared for greeted me warmly, and everyone seemed interested in the talk I had prepared. But as soon as I was finished, the audience started asking questions, and I began to feel a creeping sense of doubt about my performance.
While I was able to reel off statistics on the latest treatments and medications, I found I had little to offer when it came to issues most pressing to them. I wasn’t sure of the best way to organize and remember the dozens of medications they were required to take. I didn’t know the most efficient way for them to schedule follow-up visits with me or my colleagues. I had no suggestions other than more pills for dealing with the nausea induced by their anti-rejection drugs. And I could only listen, speechless, to stories about co-workers who continued to discriminate against them by treating them like “sick people.”
I watched as the audience spontaneously broke out into smaller groups, people’s faces lighting up as they recognized their own travails in the stories of others.
The event organizer, a transplant patient herself who regularly coordinated lectures like this, approached me. To my surprise, instead of being upset with me, she bubbled over with praise.