A Taste of My Own Medicine

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Aug 03, 2011

'I'm a famous doctor. I give advice to millions of people. But it turns out I'm a lousy patient."
Dr. Mehmet Oz

Today I am thinking about two extremely honest medical doctors. The first one expressed his transparent emotions and behavior in a personal article he wrote for Time magazine (June 13, 2011) titled, "What I Learned from My Cancer Scare." The story started about a year earlier when Dr. Mehmet Oz celebrated his 50th birthday and at a birthday bash he bragged how he would commemorate this milestone by scheduling a colonoscopy. 

He did set up the appointment but he didn't follow the prescribed instructions. Although he was not to eat anything for 36 hours before the procedure, he admitted, "I nonetheless sneaked a few mouthfuls of lunch just 18 hours before." 

The test did turn up a small tear drop polyp. The doctor who had playfully scolded Dr. Oz for eating, took a biopsy which was sent to pathology for rapid diagnosis. Because it was Friday, results would not be known until Monday. Even Dr. Oz had to wait for the results. The best news would be a hyperplastic polyp which would be harmless. The worst case, however, was that the cancer had spread through the protective lining of the colon and he would need surgery to remove the colon. On Monday, Dr. Oz found out he had a hyperplastic polyp. 

But because Dr. Oz had eaten that food, his doctor wanted to take yet another colonoscopy. And again Dr. Oz stalled. He scheduled and then canceled. His doctor sent him emails and he still procrastinated. Finally after nine months had passed he made the appointment, followed the instructions and another hyperplastic polyp was found. 

I appreciated Dr. Oz's honesty about his arrogance. He described himself as "cavalier" and immune from the reality and risks which he faced. The prescriptions he gave to others somehow did not apply to him. He concluded, "The transformation from Dr. Oz to a modest, wiser Mr. Oz did not become complete until I was staring directly at a pathology report." 

The article by Dr. Oz reminded me of a book I read years ago titled A Taste of My Own Medicine(1988) by Dr. Ed Rosenbaum. From a literary perspective, Dr. Rosenbaums book and Dr. Oz's stories have been called pathographies, narratives that give voice and face to the illness experience. 

After practicing medicine for 50 years, Dr. Rosenbaum was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. In the preface to his book, Dr. Rosenbaum says, "I have heard it said that to be a doctor, you must first be a patient. In my own case, I practiced medicine for fifty years before I became a patient. It wasn't until then that I learned that the physician and the patient are not on the same track. The view is entirely different when you are standing at the side of the bed from when you are lying in it." 

As I read Dr. Rosenbaum's words they sounded similar to Dr. Oz's. A serious diagnosis instantly changed their view on their whole profession as well as on themselves. Dr. Oz mostly criticized himself, but Dr. Rosenbaum aimed his criticism at the medical profession. He was deeply bothered by the indifference of those administering his X-rays, his radiologist's lack of compassion, the profit motive of the medical industry and even the way the insurance carriers functioned. 

After Dr. Rosenbaum had just been accepted at medical school, he shared his good news with his grandmother who surprised and shocked him when she replied, "Doctors are great - as long as you don't need them." It was only years later that he began to understand what she meant. 

Any profession can have its blind spots. Teachers can be unteachable. Preachers can be unethical. Lawyers can break the law. Bankers can file for bankruptcy. I think we all need at times "a taste of our own medicine." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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