“Doctor, is the world getting sicker, or is it just me?” As I pondered my patient’s question, I thought about some of my other patients:
An anxious factory worker on a steady day shift was ordered to begin swing shifts the following week. The difficulty of arranging care for her two young children triggered a panic attack, and her supervisor sent her for anxiety treatment.
A nurse with high blood pressure informed me that her hospital stopped providing combs for patients. Families are expected to provide this item and do the necessary grooming, yet no provision was made for patients without families. After weeks of neglect, an elderly woman needed her head shaved and my patient was assigned to do the job. She asks angrily, “How could this be allowed to happen?”
An exhausted bus driver worries that his employer will try to get rid of him now that he has been labeled with a ‘mental disorder.’ His doctor diagnosed him with ‘Shift Work Sleep Disorder,’ which is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Distraught parents are struggling with an adult daughter who is too depressed to work. They cannot afford to support her and they fear she will become homeless. They want my help to place her in an assisted living facility. Their faces fall when I tell them that such facilities are available only for those who can pay.
Instead of addressing this social crisis, the medical system focuses on individuals, dodging the need for social change and dissipating the class rage that could propel that change.
My patients are not responsible for their problems, and they would know this if they spoke with one another. Instead, they confide in me. I am charged with keeping their ‘secrets’ (doctor/patient confidentiality) and treating their problems as individual, not social.
In my experience, most suffering is not an individual defect that needs ‘treatment,’ but a cry of protest against systemic oppression and deprivation.
Socialism truly would be the best medicine.