My dad’s cardiologist has the world’s best bedside manner, a knack for making his patients feel like rock stars within seconds of their arrival. His warmth and enthusiasm are genuine and they envelop those he speaks with in a figurative embrace that’s nothing short of nourishment for the soul.
“Mikie! You look amazing, boykie! It’s great to see you!” he says with a big grin on his face as he ushers us in. As he listens to the stories my dad wants to tell over and over again, our cardiologist – who happens to be Jewish – ladles lavish attention on my dad, praising his healthy appearance.
There’s no rushing, no looking at watches and no sombre reflections on the extent to which dementia has waltzed away with my dad’s mind in the two years since he last sat in this examination room. And that’s OK, because while there’s not a whole lot that medicine can offer my father on this journey, it doesn’t really matter when we have a medical encounter that’s this positive.
We leave the cardiology office feeling light and elated, buoyed by the infectious optimism of this amazing physician. He has our complete trust because, in his company, we feel not just supported, but deeply cared for. This is his amazing gift – a bedside manner that should be the envy of every medical practitioner.
Over the past five years, I’ve been privy to many meetings with my dad’s doctors, so I have a keen appreciation for the importance of a good bedside manner. I remember the days when dementia was an unidentified mystery tormentor in my dad’s life and we were going for test after test to figure out what was going on.
One geriatrician who came highly recommended stands out in my memory, because he was tasked with revealing the diagnosis that would change the course of my dad’s life. He announced it in a flat, emotionless voice, delivering no sense that he cared one way or another.
At the time, it felt like we’d been tossed into a churning sea, the waves pounding mercilessly around us, as this man stood watching from the beach, his face utterly expressionless. Though I cannot vouch for his medical skill, I can say with confidence that his bedside manner was dulled beyond recovery.
We are lucky, now, to be in the care of physicians who demonstrate great compassion and fill my dad’s medical appointments with patience, kindness and understanding. Each visit to our present geriatrician is a soothing salve for a stubborn wound that won’t quite heal. While the doc checks his vitals, takes his weight and looks over his prescription, it’s not so much his medical skill that we need now.
The time for interventive drugs and memory tests has passed. What I notice most about the time we spend with this physician is the deep respect with which he treats my father, the gentleness in his demeanour and the way he makes us feel. As our appointment wraps up, my sister, my father and I leave his office peaceful and happy. We don’t mind coming back in six-to-12 months, because we know this man has our backs. He cares – and right now, that means everything.
I don’t mean to bash doctors. There are many who are fully proficient, but whose communication skills are direly lacking, and others who have great bedside skills, but are lousy at medicine. It’s a rare feat to get both attributes in one throw of the dice.
So I’m acutely aware of how blessed we are to leave these doctors’ offices feeling hopeful and happy, particularly when the diagnosis we’re living with is anything but. They add a skip to our step, an airiness to our day and a feeling of companionship on this long journey. With their figurative hands on our backs, the future feels much less daunting.