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Doctor Learns How to Be a Patient

When I was 18, my father, a doctor, learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of medical care. He was diagnosed with cancer. His type was very survivable if caught early—which could only be known through surgery.

I sat next to him in the waiting room before the operation. It was odd seeing him in a hospital not striding with confidence into a patient's room or giving orders at a nurses' station like a battleship commander—something I had witnessed many times as a boy accompanying him on Saturday morning rounds. Instead he sat in silence with his shoulders rolled and hands shaking.

"You know doctors make the worst patients," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because we know too much. We know the thousands of things that can go wrong that most people never imagine."

Thankfully his cancer was caught early and he survived, but something important happened when the physician became the patient, when the expert became the examined. He gained something that can't be taught in medical school or acquired from years of practicing medicine.Cancer gave him empathy. I saw his compassion for his patients grow following his own health crisis. Doctors may make the worst patients, but patients make the best doctors.

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