Treatment RefusalJuly 30, 2008
While riding the jeep to school, I overheard this conversation.
“You’re now a diabetic?” a woman said to a man, who was obviously her friend. She wore what seemed to be a uniform of some generic office. He, on the other hand, was wearing home clothing.
“That’s what the doctor said,” the man said.
“You should go natural,” the woman said. “Don’t drink. Don’t eat too much. Go natural. Exercise.”
“No,” he said in obvious denial of his condition, “I feel fine.”
“Your condition might worsen,” she said. “You’ll end up injecting yourself with expensive medicine everyday.”
“I don’t care what the doctor says,” he said. “As long as I feel fine, I’ll do the same things I do normally.”
Now I must admit that I have a strange sense of humor. I don’t know how other medical students would react to this situation, but I just smiled. Call it weird, but I can’t help but imagine what this man in the future might look like. He’ll be weak, thin, and wasted. He’ll also be mouthing his regret over not changing his ways. Yet by that time, there would no longer be any major benefit from his reformation. He’d either end up dead or be sick for a long time.
To anyone think that I have a sadistic streak, “stop it”. I was just amused by the man’s stubbornness. It would allow him to enjoy a happy lifetime, but it would be a shorter lifetime. Also, I greatly respect autonomy. As long as an adult individual has sufficient mental capacity, he has the right to undergo or refuse treatment. The smile was also brought about by a small streak of what my future would bring. I’d be handling stubborn patients like him, who wouldn’t follow my instructions. Call it grim humor, because that’s what it is.
My smile was noticed by the woman. I believe she also noted my distinct* white uniform and the giant Pediatrics book I was holding because she turned the man’s attention to me.
“Am I speaking right?” she asked, and then turned to the man. “He’s a medical student, a future doctor.”
Trying to hide the grimace building up from her last statement, I nodded and smiled at them. No matter what I’d say, the man would still stick to his ways. If he didn’t believe what his doctor told him, he wouldn’t believe what a “future doctor”** would tell him. I left them shortly afterward.
I just knew the woman would still be trying to convince the man. The man, however, would not follow her. I consoled myself that the decision was his to make. Then I had an insight:
Doctors, ultimately, have a vital goal in order to fulfill their calling. They may know how to diagnose, cure, or manage a disease or condition. Yet their vital goal is to first convince their patients to agree to get well.
*Our uniforms are different from the Nursing students’ uniforms.
** Somehow, this just makes me cringe. There’s still about 5 years to go before I can claim the coveted MD degree.