Friday, February 20, 2009


I am scheduled to have heart surgery on January 6, to repair a leaking mitral valve. As a result I have spent a good deal of time with doctors and nurses recently, and I have learned a number of things about myself which I did not know, as well as about doctors and nurses.

I have never had surgery and had hoped never to have it, and the prospect is depressing and provokes much anxiety. It is an entirely new and unwelcome experience, and one which I hope never to have to repeat. But the doctors and nurses don't seem to see it that way; that is, they seem almost completely incapable of seeing the surgery from my point of view.

To them, it appears, I am little more than a defective mechanism that is to be repaired. My heart is not a residence of emotion, love, despair, poetry, longing, regrets and dreams, but merely a pump with a leaking valve. My body, to put it mildly, is simply in the way, so that they have to cut through it to effect the necessary repairs. My mind, spirit, emotions are of no interest or concern to them at all. My personality, even my identity, count for almost nothing. I am meat, and little more.

Why medical professionals are not trained in empathy, are not trained to ask patients about themselves and listen attentively to the answers, why they are not trained to think of their patients as they think of themselves - as vital human beings with minds and hearts and souls, with lives and hopes and families, with histories and aspirations - is baffling to me beyond any ability to comprehend. When I remarked to an operating room nurse that the team that will be working on me will have no idea who or what I am, she replied blandly, 'Oh, yes, they always announce the patient's name before we begin the procedure.'

At least I will have a name. But as for the rest, I will be nothing, I fear, but a used Pontiac that needs a valve job.