The Doctor Who Hated Cancer Patients
Gentle readers, may I share with you a curious phenomenon that I have observed in my practice of medical oncology? Although it sounds as hideous as it is strange, I have worked with several doctors who have such a nihilistic attitude toward the treatment of cancer that they harbor prejudice and ill will against their own patients fighting the disease. Fortunately such a breed of physician is a rara avis in the world of clinical medicine, nevertheless, it is distressing for me to have to work side-by-side with a referring doctor who is not on my side. How could any doctor not wish the return of good health to one struggling with cancer? Rephrasing the question, why would a purported healer denigrate my professional attempts at healing?
Perhaps by describing the three main species of medical misanthropes I have encountered, the reasons behind such immature behavior will become evident.
The Ignoramus: who specializes in professing no knowledge whatsoever of the proper diagnosis or treatment of cancer. By feigning ignorance, he can justify his decision to not evaluate symptoms or findings on exam that might lead one to suspect a malignancy. The Ignoramus is recognized by his utter lack of interest in learning anything new in my field; for example, if I were to announce to him that a cure for a deadly form of cancer has just been approved and is in my office, ready to be given to his patient, his response would likely be, "OK, well thanks for calling." How does this doctor advance his basic fund of knowledge if he cares little about what happens to his own patients? Is this an example of what they called "passive-aggressive behavior" back in freshman psychology?
The Pessimist: always scanning the blue skies for that tiny black cloud which will give him the pleasure of proclaiming the day is going to be ruined by rain. The Pessimist just can't accept the fact that some modern cancer treatments are costly, that they work only temporarily, that they prolong life in less than all patients, that they do not come with a guarantee of success. Hey, for crying out loud- we oncologists realize we have a long ways to go - last time I checked I didn't see that coronary artery disease was cured, either! I find I must always quote survival data to this doctor in order to receive his blessing of approval prior to my involvement in a case, as if there are no other possible benefits to treatment. There's no quicker way to disappoint The Pessimist than to call with good news, because in his melancholy world cancer is a disease that is better left untreated.
The Sadist: the less said about him, the better. I know it seems unfathomable, but there is a species of doctor who delights in the misery of his patients. He expresses this subtly - by his demeanor, his body language, his choice of words - all designed to inflict emotional harm on the patient and especially the family. He never fails to illustrate how much of the patient's suffering has been caused by the oncologist's treatment. I therefore spend much time trying to rally again those dejected and depressed by cancer, and then by their doctor. Maybe this behavior is just an example of schaudenfreude unchained, or maybe it is simple revenge for perceived past injustices. Whatever motivates him, I can state with great confidence that my success in dealing with The Sadist lies in avoiding him as much as possible!
Could it be that I'm just too sensitive, that in any medical profession we must be ready to battle wits with skeptics, worrywarts, killjoys and jerks? Fine, then let us have at it - I will gladly lift up my smiling sword of hope against the frowning Dr. Scoundrel! At least I'll know whose side the patients will be cheering for.