Posted in Perspectives

At the Bedside

Usually, I love Tuesday mornings. We get to spend a couple of hours in the hospital wards just chatting to patients and honestly, you meet the most amazing people. I continue to be amazed at how easily they allow us to pull back the curtains and take a peek into their lives – an opportunity I’m sure we would not have if it weren’t for those white coats we parade around in. [I’ll save the chat about the dodgy power dynamics surrounding that for another time.]

I’ll be honest, I was always skeptical about the concept of bedside teaching. It just seems so… strange – uncomfortable, I guess –  to discuss a person and their illness right in front of them. However, when we first started seeing patients, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The teaching environment was often respectful and inclusive of the patient.

Then, today happened. We went to see a patient and as we stood around his bed discussing the case, it was as if, for the most part, the patient wasn’t even there. I distinctly remember walking away once the teaching had ended and experiencing this nagging sensation that I should turn back and apologise for the way in which we’d conducted ourselves.

I didn’t. And more disturbing still, the guilt will probably have worn off by tomorrow.

The whole situation made clear to me how easy it is to slip into the dominant medical culture of treating illnesses and not people. Obviously, I have a long way to go to becoming the kind of respectful, patient-centred doctor I’m striving to be.

Anyway, on reflecting on what happened, I wrote this:

ten white coats around a bed
eagerly tossing words around
like tea-time snacks
over a stranger’s head;
hoping he can catch the crumbs


Let me know what you think.

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