It was a regular exam room. In the corner, there was a bed with a stepping stool at the side. Next to the bed was a hand washing station. There was a desk dividing the room, where the doctor’s comfortable office chair was behind the computer monitor. However, the seat was empty. The doctor was sitting next to the patient on the other side of the desk, away from the computer. He was intently listening to what the patient had to say. He was looking in the patient’s eye, nodding to acknowledge that he was following along. He did not, in fact, he could not sneak peaks at the computer screen nor did he have his phone out to distract him. His attention was solely on the patient who was sitting next to him.
I was politely shown the doctor’s chair behind the desk to sit down. It felt odd. It was the doctor’s seat, the seat of power, it’s a seat where important decisions are made. Even though I knew I would eventually take that seat, I felt out of place. I felt like a tourist without a guidebook: scratching my head, not knowing what to do. I observed the doctor interacting with his patients for a while, trying not to disrupt or seem too awkward.
The patient was a 65 y/o female with advanced lung cancer that had metastasized to her liver and bone, causing spinal cord compression and severe pain. She was struggling with her day-to-day life, too weak and tired to get out of bed in the morning much less leave her house. She had tried several methods of pain control without success and cried that she could not keep going on like this. The doctor listened to her concerns and about her pain with an sympathetic ear without interrupting her. Then the doctor asked what she wanted to do and together they came up with a plan.