Doctor Patient Role Reversal and A Great Lesson, Part II
From Well Dressed Surgeon to Patient
He explained that the doctor asked him what it would take for him to go along with the operation and stop complaining. He told the doctor he would need to know what it feels like to be a patient and go through the process. The nurse was told and even gave him a checklist.
The doctor sighed and said "I agreed but I didn't realize what it would mean. But by then it was too late!"
Uncle Jim grinned. It was the first smile I had seen in a long time. It's too bad it was at the doctor's expense!
"I told him: OK DOC! Get your self behind that screen and strip down, just like I have to. Mister Armani suit didn't like the idea too much. He thought I wanted him to put the gown on OVER his fancy clothes. I told him would you say that to a patient? Just take everything off. That's what a patient has to do! And he had a LOT of high class clothes on when he came in. It took a while to get everything off him. One layer after another. Even his shorts and his wristwatch! What's the name of your Swiss watch doc?" said Uncle Jim, pointing at the doctor.
"Tag Heuer" said the doctor obediently. I understood how the role reversal was changing everything. Now Uncle Jim asked the questions, and the doctor answered!
"I had to know that for my checklist. We argued but I won. I told him: you become the patient or I don't stay! So I turned him into the patient!"
"Just don't operate on me." The doctor sighed, shook his head and said, "he drives a hard bargain. He processed ME instead of the other way around. Not much fun for me. I was the one taking off my suit. I thought this isn't supposed to be happening! But his life is worth it!"
"Then I put everything away for him just like a real patient. Those shoes are some fancy Italian name too, right doc?" grinned uncle Jim.
I noticed the doctor's perfectly-polished shoes sitting on the floor, with the thin black dress socks folded on top. Their owner, now barefoot and much less dapper than he had been, in the thin hospital gown intended for the patient, looked at his discarded shoes and said in a compliant voice, "Yes, Ferragamo."
"Spell that. I don't even know how to say that. But it's a helluva lot easier talking to you when you ain't wearing them on your feet. Eight hundred bucks for one pair of shoes!" said Uncle Jim. "Makes me feel like a bum!"
"Well I'm not wearing them now so let's finish up here," said the doctor, sounding tired.
We talked over the operation and all the details. It was a VERY strange experience sitting with the formerly distinguished and imposing doctor who had been stripped and deconstructed by his own patient. When he looked at his wrist I realized there was no expensive watch to look at. He just shook his head.
Looking at the doctor I realized how important clothes and appearance and status are in how we perceive and treat people. The well known and respected surgeon now looked like any patient in the hospital, waiting for an operation.
There was nothing to distinguish him from anyone else, now that Uncle Jim had dismantled him, usurping his 'doctor' image, confiscating all that expensive, tailored designer attire and divesting him of his identity. His manner now was slightly different - a little less confident and self assured. The hospital gown that Uncle Jim hated to put on did not really fit the doctor, who was much taller, and he kept pulling it back.
"I never understand why they have that opening in the back," murmured the doctor.
Uncle Jim shouted with laughter. "Big change from your Armani suit, huh? You're the only one here who isn't wearing shoes! Betcha didn't figure on that when you came in here!" He picked up one of the Italian shoes. "I think this would look better on me. What do you think, doc?"
The doctor nodded and did not laugh. "Yes, it is a big change from my Armani suit. And you're right; I didn't expect it. But now I understand a lot more. Surrendering my identity was much harder than I expected."
I realized then what that doctor had done for my great uncle. He had willingly humbled himself, stripped himself of the trappings and symbols of his power and authority - and even his dignity - in order to get his patient to have a life saving operation.
And Uncle Jim was not even grateful for the sacrifice. He was mocking the doctor and openly enjoying his sense of control. The barefoot doctor's polished shoe was now reduced to a prop as Uncle Jim used it as a pointer.
But the doctor had succeeded. Uncle Jim would have his operation.
"Now if it's all right with your uncle here I'm going to turn back into a doctor. I have my conference and other patients to see. I can't go anywhere without my clothes or my identification! I can't even walk down the hall. Do I have your permission to step back into my suit and tie?" asked the doctor, bowing to Uncle Jim.
"Yeah, you can be a doctor again," said Uncle Jim, as if he were doing his own surgeon a huge favor. "You can even put your shoes back on!"
"That's a relief," said the doctor with a chuckle, gathering his belongings, taking his suit, tie and shirt and stepping behind the screen. "They wouldn't let me in the conference in my bare feet!"
Uncle Jim came through the operation very well and lived many more years. And we have that doctor to thank for more than that. He was willing to come down to his level and turn himself into a patient.