February 4, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

The best medicine for people is humanity

I have to say that I have lived a truly privileged life in medicine. During my long and eventful training as a doctor and nurse, I have stood on the shoulders of many great mentors. In high school, I had teachers who filled biology and physics with wonder, awe, and elusive logic. And then there were those Yale college professors who demanded critical and perceptive thinking in everything that was spoken and written. Eventually, my mentors at Stanford Medical School taught me the sheer beauty and magnificence of human anatomy and physiology. Yes, they all shaped how I now think about medicine and illness. But it was my time in Europe and Africa that really taught me how to actually heal patients. There I learned that the patient is the “book” and that he must be “read” carefully in order to heal his ailments in the best possible way.

Watch The Dance

I remember the time a sheikh was examined at Stanford when I was a student there because his leg became weak while dancing. After several blood tests and failed scans, he was told he had a 1cm brain lesion in his cerebellum, likely due to multiple sclerosis. Then, 6 months later, while completing an internship in Neurology in Queen’s Square, London, England, the same Sheikh was seen for a second opinion. This time, after simply receiving a series of physical exams from master physicians, he was told that he had a 1cm lesion in his cerebellum and that he was suffering from multiple sclerosis. The diagnostic power of a well-done physical exam was now forever etched into my burgeoning medical consciousness.

See better than look

And then I went one step further. How was medicine in Africa, where fancy scans and blood tests might not have been available? After months of research and dozens of letters sent (no internet unfortunately), I secured a general surgery internship at Hôpital Aristide Le Dantec in Dakar, Senegal, a large public hospital in West Africa. And there I learned the true power of observing and “reading” patients. Like back then, when a terminally ill child was diagnosed with typhoid fever and perforation of the small intestine solely on the basis of a temperature chart and abdominal examinations. Or watching a surgeon diagnose acute appendicitis instead of kidney stones by watching the patient lie still as a board for several minutes from his bed, rather than showing the constant, writhing, restless pain that characteristic of stone disease. Yes, I have learned that patients can be “read” like books, like a detective story with clues to solve the mystery of the disease.

Looks. Listen. Feeling.

What has stayed with me from these worldwide experiences is the tremendous value that observation has in medicine. It really is the essence of holistic medicine. Use all your senses to understand illness. Looks. Listen. Feeling. Perceive and learn from basic human observation and interaction. No doubt we’re “looking” all the time – Tik-Tok videos, TV, traffic, phones, clocks and the like – but how often do we actually “see” and “observe”? In the words of Publilius Syrus, “Observation, not age, brings wisdom.” And so it seems that the best way to care for those around you is to just be human.