A little bit of empathy- Doctor diaries.


Monotony brings in boredom. I believe that this happens to the best of us, in whichever profession we happen to be involved in, and so medicine is no exception. Though we start of as idealistic, bright eyed, young doctors, over the years, we get jaded due to tiredness and the sheer numbers that we treat. There is hardly any time to think. Rather, we work more by force of habit, than the passion that we started of with.

Prof. B.M. Hegde, the former Vice Chancellor of MAHE University was often known to quote, that as doctors, we need to cure rarely, care often and comfort always.  But in the mad juggle of life, responsibilities and work, we sometimes lose out on the sensitivity which we need to show the patient, rather than just treating him.

As a mental health professional, the number of times that I have had to diagnose a life threatening illness is less as compared to many other branches of medicine. Rather, most of the illnesses in my bag, fall in the category of life altering. Nothing remains the same after the diagnosis is made. Both for the patient and the family. A lot of times, this causes morbidity in ways which are unseen, but cause a lot of suffering. Decisions that fall outside realm of medicine, like long term medications to be given to patients who are not so willing to swallow them, the crashing of dreams which the parents would have built for their children, the change in roles and responsibilities when the bread winner of the family falls sick, the insecurity of a relapse, the frustrations of the family which work adversely on patient outcome and the societal shaming – all of which are invisible to us, but very much a part and parcel of the illness. And as it is invisible, it often becomes easy to brush off conveniently under the carpet.

It was on one of such days when I diagnosed schizophrenia in a seventeen year old boy. The mother  broke down and started crying copiously. After customarily consoling her, I happened to remark that there were others who had worse forms of the disease, and so should consider herself lucky. To which she replied that maybe it was so, but she was crying not only for her son, but also for breakdown of her life which was painstakingly constructed for the past so many years. She told me that she had to cry so that she could grieve the loss, the burden and her son, and only then she could accept it. She asked for permission to cry, because she could not do it in front of her son or family. Once done, she walked away quietly, only to return for the next visit with a set of questions regarding how her son and family could cope better.

This small incident made me rethink my qualities as an effective counselor. As a doctor, I had thought it important to treat the disease, but forgot about the patient and his family. I could have consoled myself saying that the lack of time was the cause of this heartlessness, but it somehow seemed unforgivable. There are many instances that I have seen, where there are doctors with no super specialty degrees or  swanky clinics, but where the Que for visiting the doctor is serpentine. What they call “Kai guna” in kannada, must be the magic of sharp observation, unhurried questioning and a profound sense of empathy used together as treatment. This combination must be more potent than all the medications and hi fi equipment put together.

From then on, I resolved to spend a little more time with my patients than just enough to spot the diagnosis. And the results have been nothing short of remarkable. Now I have extended families in my patients. The caretakers know that they have a shoulder to cry on and are hence more comfortable. Each milestone they have achieved becomes partly mine. And when the seventeen year old passed his class twelve with a first class, I got home a huge box of yummy mysurpak. There seems to be no monotony anymore.

21 thoughts on “A little bit of empathy- Doctor diaries.

    • preethishanbhag April 16, 2016 / 5:32 pm

      Thank you. I know we should be near perfect, but sometimes, we are not at our best! Trying to forgive myself for this ! Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Parul Thakur April 16, 2016 / 5:33 pm

    You are a thoughtful Doctor. And I’m proud to know you virtually. I have a close family relative with schizophrenia and I understand the challenges it brings. I wonder how such things happen to children or anyone 😦


  2. Shrikanth Hegde April 17, 2016 / 3:00 am

    Well written, applies to all branches of medicine and profession in general. So many times while informing a fatal illness or deal with an agitated family, we tend to forget or not try to understand what’s happening on the other side


  3. Sin April 17, 2016 / 11:22 am

    Preethi, this is a great post.
    On a connected but slightly different note, have you read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande? Do read it.


    • preethishanbhag April 17, 2016 / 12:03 pm

      Oh I’ ve read it sindhu. It is such a great book. His other three booksare also superb.Beautifully explained. We are heading towards a similar crisis in India now, though not as bad. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jean April 24, 2016 / 12:18 am

    You must learn of not just yourself and but just simply alot from your patients through your work.


  5. Zephyr May 7, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    I had bookmarked this one but got round to reading it only now! It is indeed an eye-opener in many ways. I remember writing a post about how the ‘family doctors’ are being sorely missed. Today we only have medical ‘technicians’ who diagnose with the help of diagnostic tools, the more expensive and jazzy, the better. They don’t feel the pulse of the patient literally and figuratively leading to fear, frustration and agony for the patients and their families. I am so happy to know that you are one of the hand-holders in the profession, even if you are not a physician or surgeon. It is even more important in your branch of medicine to be compassionate. Hugs, Dr.Preethi!


    • preethishanbhag May 7, 2016 / 4:20 pm

      Thank you. I happen to get a feeling of an undescribably warm feeling when I gel with the patient. And I enjoy helping them the most. I may not be the best psychiatrist in town, but I try hard to be the best emphatizer ever:)


  6. sidran July 14, 2016 / 5:45 am

    Well written.I try my best and feel that I can relate to children better and it is a bit of a struggle to deal with the parents.

    Liked by 1 person

      • sidran July 16, 2016 / 3:25 pm

        I do agree.I have some medical queries and maybe you can help me in my practise. My special interests are ASD and Learning disabilities..Can I contact through your email?

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s