I assume that there was a time when the doctor lived down the road and everyone knew each other. I read about these times in “Little House on the Prairie” and other books that my brother and I relegated to the category “olden days.” I suppose I’ve experienced these places and ways of being in community, too- in Latin America I have lived many places where the doctor lives down the road (sometimes in a giant purple house). I don’t wish to romanticize this kind of small-town way of knowing and being, and nor do I want to consider small-town antiquated, old, not modern, or backwards, but rather I want to notice something.
My plastic surgeon goes to my yoga studio. It’s very clear we have the same favorite teacher because I always see her at this teachers’ class. The first time I saw her there, I was unsure it was her. I wondered. I stared. I wondered if she had a sister or a twin who looked alike. I wondered if I was mistaken, having only met her once. But at the end of the class, she touched my shoulder and said hello. This was definitely my plastic surgeon. I see her now, regularly, at yoga. We exchange a hello, sometimes a few words or a conversation.
It is shocking, even to me, how much more willing I am to ask questions, divulge information, and discuss options with this doctor- simply because I see her outside of her office on a regular basis! She is part of a wider yoga community, and knowing I’ll see her in itty-bitty shorts sweating gallons takes the edge off of the power dynamic that we naturally experience as doctor and patient. I think she feels it too, and she is one of the only doctors who will ask me if I have read X article or researched X option, which is pretty awesome because most of the time, when I tell a doctor I have read X article and researched X option, they quickly correct me, regale me with the related research, and move on, knowing full well they know more than I do. But the plastic surgeon doesn’t do that. She knows I have researched, she knows I know my body, and she knows she’ll see me at yoga. She’s still certainly the expert in the room, and I’m still squarely the patient, but the dynamic is different. Sure, we could chalk up the difference to being about oncology and critical chemotherapy treatments versus less-critical reconstruction with multiple functional options. But still. There’s something more there we would be missing, if we dismissed it that way. Besides, I’m still more willing to engage this doctor in conversations about all kinds of breast cancer related things than I am most of my other very capable, very awesome doctors. Our dynamic makes me wonder about how our communities are connected, and what it would mean to invest in particular communities where doctors and patients know each other, practice yoga together, attend the symphony together or bump into each other at talks and conferences. And so I wonder- what might it take to connect patients and doctors outside the examination room or before they meet in the OR? And would it matter, in terms of care, at all?