What is your doctor really thinking, as you tell your story? Chances are, as you sit down and start talking, you are feeling anxious, embarrassed, terrified, frustrated, defensive, hopeless, hopeful or resentful.
Here’s what I’m thinking. “What do you need, and what do you think you need? Are you in danger? What information is missing, and how do I find it? Does this require action, time or reassurance?”
I spend my days sitting in a chair watching people who are suffering. It became clear to me, very early in my practice, that there is a limit to what can be done for any of us. I realised that in fact I was sitting in a chair contemplating the human condition. How do we live, knowing we are dying? What does good health really mean? When this crazy century promises us perfection, and we receive instead our failing, flawed selves, what then? Why is my doctor always running late?
Out of this springs my work on medical ethics, death and dying, spirituality in health, medical consumerism and the doctor/patient relationship. The gulf between doctors and patients is unnecessarily wide. I’ve overheard patients in the supermarket say “Dr Oliver said…” and proceed to give a completely bizarre account of what I said. This has taught me that I am not as good a communicator as I thought, and nor is anyone else. There are so many things I can’t say to you when you are sick or worried or in pain, so I say them here. I also say them in the Guardian, ABC Religion and Ethics, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Doctor, Womankind and the Medical Republic.
I write what I see, as a doctor and fellow human, when I look at a suffering person. Currently helping me are my studies in mysticism, Russian and American literature, dystopian science fiction, the Desert Fathers (experts in suffering), childhood fantasy tales, Victorian novelists, Persian poetry, and the beautiful river near my home on the east coast of Australia. Helping me most of all are the faces and words of those people who allow me to share their journeys.
I am the cool aunt of six small people and I prefer to be outdoors. My patients love me, mostly.