Friday, August 16, 2013

People Aren't Junk

I was reading an article today about cyber-bullying and harrasment that game fans inflict on game designers. This is an issue that is important to me because it actually happened to a dear friend of mine. One of the points the article made is that somehow online people are separated from their consciences. They become more primitive and aggressive and fail to recognize the target of their invective and threats as a fellow human being. I think this is probably true, but honestly I think the problem is much bigger than that. We live in a culture of self-centered rudeness. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, ever since an interaction at work last week left me shocked and dismayed.

One aspect of my job as a consult psychiatrist is to attend medical rounds with some of the other teams in the hospital. Even if they don’t have specific patients for me to see as a psychiatrist, I can contribute something to enough cases that it is worth my time. Additionally, seeing me on a regular basis helps build my relationship with them, so that when they need a consult for a patient I can be more helpful to them and thus also to the patient as well. And to be honest, I think it’s fun. I liked medicine in my training and although I love my specialty, I also love learning from my colleagues and thinking about other aspects of patient care.

So last week I was on rounds with the intensive care unit team, which I try to do weekly. I really like the team in our intensive care unit, which is made up of a critical care doctor, a family medicine resident, an infectious disease specialist, a pharmacist, a nutritionist, the critical care nurses and sometimes a thoracic surgeon. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the doctors on this unit. They are smart, caring, thorough and hard working. If I were ill I would want them caring for me. So when the attending last week was concerned about a patient enough to request an emergency consult from another specialist, I assumed she would be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, what happened is that the other doctor showed up with an attitude. It wasn’t in anything he said, but his tone of voice and choice of words made it clear he felt that the ICU team was wasting his time by asking him to see this patient. It wasn’t subtle. Everyone on the team was aware of it, and the attending in particular was (understandably) very offended although she kept the focus on her concerns for this patient. Fortunately the specialist did actually see and care for the patient who did well and has recovered. But the incident left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. I think we’ve lost something important when doctors no longer grant each other respect and courtesy. The attitude I would hope for in medical professionals is one of collegiality and trust – trust that if a fellow doctor is asking you to see a patient they have a reason and that you should go and see the patient. That isn’t what I see much of 
the time. Instead I see rudeness and condescension. And I think it’s a symptom of a larger societal illness.

You see, I think all these things are related – rudeness to colleagues, cyber bullying, road rage, mass shootings, racism, misogyny, bigotry in all forms, violence in our families and against women… I think we’ve forgotten that we are all human beings. Somehow in our so busy so accomplished so wealthy society, we’ve lost sight of the idea that every human being is precious. Every human being is created in G-D’s image, is a loved and wanted child of G-D, and deserves kindness and respect. Every single one of us. My mother told me something really important when I was growing up. She said G-D made you, and G-D doesn’t make junk. And I believe that’s true. I believe that’s true of me and you and everyone else.

I don’t know how to combat this illness, except with respect and love. The cure has to be different from and better than the disease. So at work I strive to show and model kindness and respect for my colleagues and at home I try to live those values with my family. I teach my daughter what my mother taught me – that G-D made everyone, and G-D doesn’t make junk. And, I hope, by writing about it. By saying out loud that more hatred and more name calling and more division is not an answer. It’s okay to say that something is wrong or someone is mistaken, but it should be said respectfully and kindly. I’m standing up for what I believe in when I write this blog – but I’m doing it with respect and love.