Privileged #3 - kindness

In my resident clinic, I had a patient who was an asshole. 100% asshole. He was mean and rude to doctors and staff. He had a hard life, harder than most, and suffered severe disabilities from his medical condition. He had bounced around the medical system, and found his way to my clinic.

I picked him up because one of the other residents unceremoniously dumped him on me. The other resident knew him and had him in the hospital, but feigned total ignorance when he bounced back to the hospital, and so I took his case. I realized a week later that this was a dump, and was I ever pissed off. But I took the patient into my resident clinic, because I will never turn down honest work.

In clinic, he was instantly trouble. He was rude and mean to the staff and other physicians. He complained bitterly about everyone. My attending advocated dismissing him from the clinic. I picked an alternate plan: I would be nice.

And so he would come in every 8 weeks or so and I was nice. He was rude and abrasive to me, and I returned kindness. He cursed and scowled, and I reassured. He was hateful and self-loathing, and I was empathetic. He railed and complained, and I listened.

And for three years this dance continued until my resident clinic ended. At his last appointment, he was quiet and thoughtful. He shook my hand and thanked me for helping him. He left, saying good bye to the staff by name, and thanking them for helping him recently with a prescription issue. One of the staff came up to me afterward and said, 'I can't believe that's the same Mr M! When he started here, he was such an asshole!'

For me, it was such a special moment to see the power of kindness, and that it is possible to do good in this world. I did nothing special for him except show him kindness and compassion, and that was all it took. You can do good in this world too, if only you can remember that in order to do good, you must be good.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -Martin Luther King, Jr.


Miss Kris said...

Thank you so much for all your posts. I just found them today and I'm just starting my first year of medical school in the fall. It's nice to see such a realistic point of view of medicine, and after reading your "Don't Become a Doctor" series, the Privileged series is refreshing (and reassuring). Also, really enjoyed your thoughts about being interested in the pathology and not the lifestyle when choosing a specialty.

PGYx said...

Thanks for posting such a wonderful reminder of the power of kindness.

I'm just finishing intern year and headed to residency in a grittier area where people are known for rude attitudes. The topic came up in one of my interviews with a chief resident at my program. I noted that I wasn't too worried about rude folks b/c if I'm respectful of and nice to others, in my experience enough of them will respond in kind (and I can deal with the few who don't).

At the interview's end the chief told me that he thinks I'll bring out the nice in a lot of people who might ordinarily act rudely. I hope he's right, and can say that the approach you advocate has worked very well for me as an intern.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your 'don't become a doctor' series when trying to figure out whether med school was for me. I ended up spending half a day reading your blog.

I just wanted to say your blog is great. You write really well, and I love your insights about being a doctor. Thanks. I still haven't decided about becoming a doctor, but I'll definitely keep reading. I hope you continue writing.