We need to talk about doctor shaming on social media. This month alone, I have seen three separate posts in which a patient’s watcher, presumably a relative, snaps a photo of the involved physician or intern, and then posts the image on Facebook with either a disgruntled remark or an agonizing narrative. The post invariably generates commiseration in the form of likes and comments, only a few of which could be considered constructive, some even bordering on harassment and libel.
It was elective surgery day and I was the pediatric neurosurgery fellow assigned to the operating theater. After scrubbing my arms and hands with antiseptic in the anteroom that served as our washing area, I walked into the operating room with both arms held up in front and politely requested a sterile towel from the scrub nurse. From across the room, it was our head nurse Shelley who noticed the grazes on both of my forearms.
“Oh, what happened to you Ron?” her tone filled with concern as if I were her own son.
“I got into a fight in a bar over the weekend,” I said with as much seriousness I could muster while patting myself dry.
Earlier this week, a medical intern’s photo of the emergency department of Philippine General Hospital (PGH) circulated online. It showed the triage area filled to the brim, packed with patients lying on bare metal stretchers, fazed watchers, and not surprisingly, only a handful medical personnel. Because of a change in the start of the academic year, the student workforce had been reduced to a third of its usual number. “Madness. We need help. (Crying emoji)” part of the caption read.
As a student, I was the stereotypical academic achiever. “Consistent honor pupil” was how family members would invariably introduce me to acquaintances then, and how most of my former teachers would remember me now. At the end of each academic year, it was no surprise to my parents receiving a letter from my school, inviting them to bestow medals upon the eldest of their five children.
Dr. Aida Salonga and other guests of honor, Dr. Leonor Cabral-Lim and consultants of the Sections of Adult Neurology, Pediatric Neurology and Neurosurgery, alumni of the Department of Neurosciences, parents, co-residents, medical students, and guests, good evening.
What common experience binds all of us doctors here tonight? I thought about this and realized that aside from Emergency Medicine, no other specialty confronts the fragility of human life head on like the Neurosciences.
In February of this year, I had the rare opportunity to assist a world-renowned neurosurgeon as he clipped three intracranial aneurysms in a patient on the same sitting. Dr. Michael T. Lawton led his medical team from Mission BRAIN Foundation on a three-day visit to Philippine General Hospital, to give lectures and workshops for Filipino neurosurgeons and nurses, and to demonstrate surgical techniques on different neurovascular cases.
“Anong kuwento mo sa akin ngayon?”
“Ga-graduate na po ako, Dok. Sa wakas.”
“Talaga? Anong course mo?”
It was a cramped courtroom, filled with wooden tables and benches that appeared much older and heavier than me. I suppose the weight was intentional, to prevent any plaintiff or defendant from hurling any of the benches in a moment of outrage.
I had been served a subpoena to testify in a case of frustrated murder. The plaintiff was a patient I operated on three years earlier and it was my first time to perform my civic duty as expert witness. I picked a seat in the middle of the first row.