“For what?” I scrunched my eyebrows in confusion.
“I’ve gained so much weight and I haven’t been taking my medicine these past three months.” My patient said.
“Ma’am. You NEVER have to apologize to me for your health.”
It was her turn to scrunch her eyebrows.
“You just lost your daughter to cancer. The fact that you woke up, got dressed, and came to this appointment today is a victory. I could care less about the weight gain and if you’re taking your medicine. I’m just happy that you’re here.”
She didn’t make eye contact but she nodded her head.
I reached for her hand and gave it a quick squeeze. We sat in silence for a few minutes before deciding to end the office visit and follow-up in one month.
There’s a thing called “The People of Walmart” and you typically see very funny photos of people at Wal-Mart in some…awkward…situations…like seeing a bright orange thong through white shorts. And yes, I’m guilty for seeing those photos and laughing as well.
But what if that morbidly obese person you’re judging for eating some french fries struggles with hypothyroidism? A disease that causes fatigue, constipation, weight gain, and joint pain?
What if that super skinny woman you’re judging for drinking a diet soda is unable to eat due to breast cancer?
I’ve had a lot of patients apologize to me for their health. Yep, apologize.
They apologize that they can’t quit smoking but then are relieved that I’m willing to prescribe them Chantix.
Some apologize for their uncontrolled diabetes because they decided to travel back home and eat at numerous family BBQs because they didn’t know if their mother would make it to see Christmas.
And some even apologize because they could only afford to pay $1 for their visit today when they normally pay their $35 copay.
And I always say the same thing.
“It’s OK. I understand. Don’t worry about it. Let’s get back on track with reducing sodas, sweet tea, and eating out.”
Or, “It’s OK. I understand. The coronavirus has caused a lot of people to lose their jobs. I appreciate that you’re here and that you paid a dollar.”
Because even though I own a white coat, I haven’t always owned one.
Even though I drive a nice SUV, doesn’t mean I’ve always owned a car. I’m thankful that I was able to drive my brother’s car in PA school.
Patients want a medical provider that is sympathetic. But I really think that what they want is a medical provider who is non-judgemental. I find that most of my patients don’t expect me to sympathize with their feelings. But they do expect me to listen and not judge their feelings about their health.
So when I see an obese patient with back pain, I don’t shun them away and tell them to simply lose weight. I give them other options. How about an x-ray? You’d be surprised that the patient is suffering from osteoporosis. How about physical therapy? You’d be surprised that patients want to move better, they just need to be shown how to do it safely and properly. Or how about a free gym membership based on your medical need? Most of my patients want to exercise but can’t afford the gym.
One of my favorite scriptures in the bible is from Matthew 7:3-5.
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye’, when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” NLT
It’s easy to point fingers at people but you have to remember to look at yourself as well.
Let’s look at some of the disciples of Jesus. They were judged as well.
Matthew, who I quoted from just now, was a terrible tax collector.
Judas, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, was a disciple.
Paul killed Christians before becoming a disciple.
And Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ until he saw it with his own eyes.
But Jesus SAW beneath the surface of his disciples. He saw their worth.
Jesus stopped a woman from being stoned due to adultery. He knew she was guilty. But he stopped the stoning by choosing some very specific words:
“‘Teacher’, they said to Jesus, ‘this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’ […] Jesus stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!'” NLT
And the crowd dropped their stones and walked away.
Jesus, who knew NO SIN, never even picked up a stone. Jesus, the one allowed to cast the final judgement at the end of the world, NEVER PICKED UP a stone.
He basically told them that they can’t point out the speck in her eye when they have logs in their own eyes!
He commands us to love one another. And by that love, we are commanded not to judge one another either.
With all of the chaos going on in the world right now, let’s stop finding specks in people’s eyes. Instead, let’s embrace each other for who we are: Imperfect people, living in an imperfect world, making imperfect decisions, but loved and forgiven by a perfect God.