By JOAN SILVERMAN
KENNEBUNK - Doctors and nurses are famously inattentive when it comes to their own care. With so many patients to tend to, and so few hours in a day, little time is left for their own ailments.
But what of the doctor who dreads the surgery in his future, and so keeps putting it off? Or, to put it differently, what about the doc who's like so many of us?
Meet Dr. Ken (a pseudonym), my allergist of many years, with whom I had a routine appointment recently. When I booked the visit, I learned that it was his last day in the office for a month, due to upcoming knee surgery. So there was an obvious opening to raise the topic, which I did.
Dr. Ken has always been a strapping guy, athletic-looking, with a slight hesitation in his walk. Over the years, however, what appeared to be a small glitch apparently became much more. First, he stopped playing tennis. Then travel became difficult. Gradually stairs became daunting, then nearly impossible.
Over six or seven years, as his arthritis progressed, life as he knew it slipped away. Travel, sports, even walking, were no longer routine.
As we chatted in his office a week before the surgery, Dr. Ken was philosophical. Yes, in the scheme of medical conditions, his was definitely a good-news scenario -- it was treatable, he would improve, his knee function would return. He was thankful on all fronts.
Given that he knew so much about his condition and its likely outcome, why had he waited so long?
Clearly his approach -- deny, agonize, delay; rinse and repeat -- was not working.
Of course Dr. Ken tried a number of therapies along the way, with varying degrees of success. And his decline was so slow as to be barely perceptible. But as time went on, small concessions grew into gaping truths: "I have no quality of life," he says now.
Then, too, there was the psychological component. The combination of Dr. Ken's boyish looks, his active life and optimistic outlook had blinded him to the reality of his own age. In fact, Dr. Ken just turned 74. Yet his image of himself remains that of a much younger man, whose knees would work for the long haul.
Adding to the mix are two factors so obvious as to escape notice. As Dr. Ken readily admits, men make terrible patients -- and physicians are even worse. Thus, a reluctant male doctor with shoddy knees is hardly an orthopedist's dream.
Dr. Ken's story is a reversal of his own physician's playbook. As an allergist, he would never advocate denial as a strategy. As he well knows, proper relief requires proper treatment. Nor would he recommend delay tactics that effectively aggravate a patient's decline.
His own conduct gives new meaning to the term "physician-induced illness."
Joan Silverman of Kennebunk writes op-eds, essays and book reviews for numerous publications.Tweet