On December 2, 1997, the Boston Tea Party, originally held on December 16, 1773, was reenacted. The ship was the same, as was the location. The original Boston Tea Party was an expression by the American colonists that they had become so dissatisfied with the status quo a protest was necessary. Tea was among the items taxed, and thus the colonists, some disguised as Native Americans, unloaded tea from a ship into the Boston Harbor, rather than onto the dock, to protest the Tea Act.
The so-called Boston Tea Party of 1997 was also an act of protest against the status quo. The protesters also wore costumes. They were doctors and nurses dressed as early American colonists. They did not throw tea into the harbor; rather, they threw the annual reports of for-profit hospitals. Thus, the group protesting took a stand against the profit motives of hospitals as well as against the lack of concern for the individual patient that may be seen with managed care. They took a stand for patient care.
Protests come in all forms. The Editorial that follows mine is a form of protest, but it is more than that. It is a plea for each physician to examine his or her approach to the patient. When I originally read this Editorial, which was submitted as an unsolicited manuscript, it did not seem to fit in The Journal. Nonetheless, while the fit might seem uncomfortable to some readers, the concerns expressed in the Editorial need to be aired. When I first read "A Commentary on Healing" by Gerson, I was disturbed.
I am sure that some readers will be disturbed as well. Regrettably, I think that some will see the Editorial as the protest of an unhappy patient and family and will ignore it. But it is more than a protest against a physician; it is a protest against a system that short-circuits the interaction between the physician and the patient, a system that values the short, succinct, some would say technical visit above a visit that allows the physician and the patient to interact to the benefit of both. It is a protest against a system that values technical ability and speed of execution over compassion for the patient. It is a protest against a system in which the patient is the client and the physician is the provider and nothing more. It is a protest against a system that involves the treatment of cases rather than patients.
Some will say that the surgeon's attitude described in Gerson's commentary is understandable, taking into account the situation in which he was placed. I disagree. Whenever we interact with a patient, we must put aside our personal agenda and interact with the patient for the benefit of the patient. It is not always easy to do this, but it is always necessary.
I urge the reader to look carefully at Gerson's Editorial and to modify his or her behavior if necessary. Adopting such an attitude will benefit patients and will benefit the reader as well.
Henry R. Cowell, M.D., Ph.D.