Doctor Patient Role Reversal and A Great Lesson, Part Two
From Well Dressed Surgeon to Patient
“And he had a LOT of fancy clothes on when he came in, didn't you Andy?"
The doctor just nodded. "I WAS well dressed when I got here. You would never know it now, though"
"You saw them! That's what took so long. It took a while to get everything off him. It was like peeling an onion, one layer after another. I even made him take off his underwear and his wristwatch! What's the name of your Swiss watch Andy?" said Uncle Jim, pointing at the doctor.
"Tag Heuer" said the doctor obediently. I understood how the role reversal was changing everything. Now the doctor answered the questions while Uncle Jim was directing him!
"I had to know that for my checklist. We argued but I won. I told him – you become the patient or I don't stay! So I turned him into the patient!" said a triumphant Uncle Jim. “He’s not a doctor right now. His name is Andrew, so I call him Andy. He wanted Andrew but Andy is better.”
"Just don't operate on me." The doctor sighed, shook his head and said, "He drives a hard bargain. He processed ME instead of the other way around. Not much fun for me. But his life is worth it!"
"Then I put everything away for him just like a real patient. Those shoes are some fancy Italian name too, right Andy?" grinned uncle Jim.
I noticed the doctor's perfectly-polished shoes sitting on the floor. Their owner, now barefoot and much less dapper than he had been, in the flimsy hospital gown intended for the patient, looked at the discarded shoes that he was forbidden to wear and said in a compliant voice, "Yes, Ferragamo."
"Spell that. I don't even know how to say that. But it's a helluva lot easier talking to you when you ain't wearing them on your feet. Eight hundred bucks for one pair of shoes!" said Uncle Jim. "Makes me feel like a bum!"
"Well I'm not wearing them now so let's finish up here," said the doctor, sounding tired.
At that moment an orderly walked in and looked in surprise at the doctor – and asked who he was! He had never seen the distinguished doctor before.
But the doctor had agreed that he was NOT a doctor during that time and Uncle Jim said “He's a new patient! He's a friend of mine. He works at the meat processing plant”
The orderly said "Oh! That's a tough job. Hope it goes well for you!" He emptied the trash and left.
"Why did you tell him THAT?" said the bewildered doctor. "The meat packing plant?"
Uncle Jim gave him the wicked grin I knew so well. "I just thought it was funny - the famous doctor butchering meat in your Italian suit! Putting you into a blue collar job - don't you think it's funny?"
"No" said the doctor.
"Uncle Jim, that's ENOUGH!" I said.
We talked over the operation and all the details. It was a VERY strange experience sitting with the formerly distinguished and imposing doctor who had been stripped and deconstructed by his own patient. When he looked at his wrist I realized there was no expensive watch to look at. He just shook his head.
Looking at the doctor I realized how important clothes and appearance and status are in how we perceive and treat people. The well known and respected surgeon now looked like any patient in the hospital, waiting for an operation.
There was nothing to distinguish him from anyone else, now that Uncle Jim had dismantled him, usurping his 'doctor' image, confiscating all that expensive, tailored designer attire and divesting him of his identity. His manner now was slightly different - less confident and self assured. The hospital gown that Uncle Jim hated to put on did not really fit the doctor, who was much taller, and he kept pulling it back.
"I never understand why they have that opening in the back," murmured the doctor.
Uncle Jim shouted with laughter. "Big change from your Armani suit, huh? You're the only one here who isn't wearing shoes! Betcha didn't figure on that when you came in here!" He picked up one of the Italian shoes. "I think this would look better on me. What do you think, Andy?"
The doctor did not laugh. "Yes, it is a big change from my Armani suit. And you're right – I didn't expect it. But now I understand a lot more. Surrendering my identity was much harder than I expected. Allowing the orderly to think I was a patient wasn’t easy. And PLEASE don't put my shoes on, even of you think they would look better on you. You will never take them off."
I realized then what that doctor had done for my great uncle.
He had willingly humbled himself, stripped himself of the trappings and symbols of his power and authority - and even his dignity - in order to get his patient to have a life saving operation. And Uncle Jim was not even grateful for the sacrifice. He was mocking the doctor and openly enjoying his sense of control, using the barefoot doctor’s polished shoe as a prop.
But the doctor had succeeded. Uncle Jim would have his operation.
"Now if it's all right with your uncle here I'm going to turn back into a doctor. I have my conference and other patients to see. I can't go anywhere without my clothes or my identification! Do I have your permission to step back into my suit and tie? I'm speaking at a conference in an hour" asked the doctor, bowing to Uncle Jim.
"Yeah, you can be a doctor again," said Uncle Jim, as if he were doing his own surgeon a huge favor.
"Thank you. I will now take back my title, my profession, my clothes and my education" said the doctor, gathering his belongings, taking his suit, tie and shirt and stepping behind the screen.
“May I ask what you did with my dress socks? I can’t find them...you didn't throw them in the trash by any chance? In that case I have to find the orderly and ask him for my Books Brothers socks. He may not believe they belong to a meat plant worker. I wouldn't be surprised at ANYTHING you do""
“Hey I should have thought of that!" laughed Uncle Jim. "I rolled them up and stuffed them into your shoes” and he pulled out the long, thin black dress socks. “You have my permission to put them on now. They sure are flimsy. You white collar guys must freeze your feet! You can even put your shoes back on!"
"That’s a relief. They wouldn't let me in the conference in my bare feet!” said the doctor in a dry voice. "It was strange not being allowed to put my own SHOES on!"
Uncle Jim came through the operation very well and lived many more years. And we have that doctor to thank for more than that. He was willing to come down to his level and turn himself into a patient.
This event taught me wisdom, courage and humility. We all owe a great deal to that doctor.