When I was a freshman at university, I tried climbing up the side of my dormitory. (Don’t try it.) Halfway up, I slipped and fell several floors. On the journey down, I hit my head on a cement window sill, split open my forehead, and collected a concussion. I still have that scar.
My friends rushed me to the student health center. The doctor pried the laceration open with metal instruments, pulled out debris with tweezers, and began to stitch me up. When I cried, “Ouch!” he finally remembered to give me a local anesthetic.
A year later, I canoed a local river with friends. Once when we tipped, I stood up on the river bed and stepped on a piece of glass. Blood began to spurt out several inches with each heartbeat. A student nurse wrapped my foot and rushed me back to the student health center.
The same doctor was on duty. (What are the odds?) Before poking and prodding, he offered to numb the pain. Only then did he go ahead with the prying, prodding, and cleaning. He was surprisingly gentle, and kept asking me if “this” hurts. I still have that scar too.
Afterward, I mentioned that he had stitched up my head the year before, but—and how was I to say this?—on that first visit, he lacked this gentle touch.
He said he had recently sliced open his hand while cutting a bagel. The doctor on call had treated him like a medical student experimenting on a cadaver rather than a doctor caring for a living patient.
He concluded, “I always knew these procedures hurt, but I didn’t really know. That doctor’s insensitivity has changed the way I practice medicine.”
And then he showed me his scar.