Once I had a patient …

… this is how doctors usually start a conversation when they get together. Whenever two or more get together, it seems they can’t speak about anything else but work.

Well, maybe it is true. But why should people consider it surprising? Health is, beyond all possible doubt, the number one conversation subject for everyone!

Let us take a little time to consider this …

Remember the last time you went to the hairdresser (or to the barber), the coffee shop, the beach, or at the cinema interval? Tell me, was there not “someone” always telling “someone else” all about a list of diseases that this person had been suffering from for the last 10 years (at least) and, at the same time, the other trying to bring up all their possible ailments, in a way they would not feel they were less than the other person?

And if there is nothing really relevant in their own medical past and present, there will certainly be someone in the family or a friend that they remember having already had a disease, or an operation, or “something” worth speaking about, so that they are not left behind without a subject to follow up on the conversation.

Health is indeed the most important thing in our lives. That is what doctors do: maintain health, improve health.

They deal with the most precious “thing” in our lives. They have the power to intervene, change and improve your health … hopefully.

To speak frankly, doctors have the capacity to interfere with life. It is not easy. It is hard, almost superhuman to take decisions when interfering with life. It is because there are very difficult decisions they have to take that doctors like to exchange ideas and experiences whenever they have a chance. Because diseases are in the books but the patients are not – patients are unique, each one interprets and reacts to the same disease in a different way – each one does it their own way. That is why the “road” that patients and doctors have to drive down together to achieve their ultimate goal, health, is full of bumps and holes, tricky curbs and sliding pavements.

As unity is strength, the doctor-patient team has to be close, united and have a strong bond.

It is essential to assess the risks and benefits of every decision, never forgetting that there are some patients that we will not be able to help but there are none that we cannot possibly harm.

Medicine, besides being a science, is also an art and a lot of sensibility, intuition and heart are needed in order to take decisions that will make science more human, more adjusted to each patient’s reality and that will help them to live life the best way possible … their own way.

Prescribing medicines is a very relevant part of all the decisions that have to be taken and so it is important to really know the person they are being given to.

The word “doctor” is derived from the Latin “docere”, which means “to teach”. We must do this daily as we deliver care to our patients. But, as we do it, we are learning as well. We are learning from the patient how to personalise care.

The patient must not hide anything from the one they seek help from and there has to be, above all, trust and belief in the guidance they are offered, but never blind trust or dogmatic irrational belief. In some situations, second opinions are mandatory and should be offered by your own healthcare provider.

It is usually said that “two heads think better than one” and I would like to add, if they think together with open, cooperative minds, of course. Several heads thinking separately only create confusion, and endanger the outcome of treatment. That is why shopping around for health is dangerous. The choice has to be grounded on facts, knowledge and experience, and to your own “taste”.

Like when choosing the boutique that offers you that special fashion line that suits your body … and mind! As you keep returning, they will have the feeling of what you need and what fits you, making everything easier.

When your healthcare team knows you well enough, they can offer you an adequate, personalised and balanced view of therapeutic benefits and harms, and more realistic explanations of what treatments they have to offer, generating more active and trusting relationships.

Then, hopefully, things will turn out well.

Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice

By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve