The day after the incident I described in my previous post, the surgeon reached out to me letting me know that he had ordered Uzma’s book. I shared my blog post with him. He thanked me and said this:
“Your words are too kind. I like to think I am not like most surgeons. My father was a family doctor. My mother, brothers and I could not believe how many of his patients went to his wake and funeral. None knew us. It was because they knew how much he cared for them.”
“I think most surgeons have difficulty really empathizing with patients and families. Maybe it (avoiding empathizing) makes it easier to cut another human’s body to make them well. I don’t know.”
I got two things from this interaction.
First, and most importantly, to what extent did this physician’s experience of his father’s funeral left a mark on him? The compassion he experienced in his time of loss probably made him more likely to show the same for his patients and their families. In that sense, paying it forward with small acts of love and compassion can create a virtuous cycle. Just as those patients of his father don’t get to see how he is treating his patients, we may not get to see the results of our compassion, but they are there. To the extent that this may be true, it is a lesson in showing compassion to others without caring about its outcome. It may end up meaning a lot to someone years later.
Second, his tentative explanation for why surgeons may have trouble empathizing makes sense to me. Modulating one’s emotional connection to a lower level than a primary care doctor is probably wise for a surgeon. Though, as I noted in my previous post, he was the only physician, not the only surgeon, calling to offer condolences. Something for which I will be forever grateful.
Postscript: After writing my last post, I thought I should have revealed the surgeon’s name. Both Uzma and I always thought that we should be at least as prepared to write reviews of good experiences as we are in writing reviews of negative experiences. I am glad that I had the interaction that led to this follow up post. Because the surgeon shared his personal story, I did obtain his permission before letting you, the reader, know. He is Ermilio Barrera, MD and this is his official webpage.