Why Caregiving Matters

I should be studying for my MCM exam right now for tomorrow, but after coming across this article “On Caregiving” by Arthur Kleinman, I am having trouble focusing.

This quote in particular sent shivers down my spine: “I believe that what doctors need to be helped to master is the art of acknowledging and affirming the patient as a suffering human being; imagining alternative contexts and practices for responding to calamity; and conversing with and supporting patients in desperate situations where the emphasis is on what really matters to the patient and his or her intimates. A program of medical training that makes this happen, however it is innovated, should combine practical experience of caregiving for health catastrophes in homes and institutions, where students actually do those things that families do, with the knowledge that stands behind the art of medicine.”

How can I study proteins, cells and metabolism after reading this when I feel like I should be learning more about caregiving? That when it comes down to the end, when a loved one around you is hopelessly ill, you don’t try to recall all the different phases of the cell cycle, but instead you try to support him or her by emphasizing what really matters the most to that person. Maybe I’m just bitter about biochem because I’ve been studying all week, but I think this article helped put my studies in a larger perspective of what medicine should be.

Just as an aside, Arthur has been my mentor ever since Freshman year of college, but I have never heard him talk like this in that article. I met with him last week and it sounded like he had a really rough summer. Joan, his wife, has not gotten better and instead has gotten much worse. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like going through all of this after being married for 45 years and seeing your loved one rapidly degenerate into a shell of her former self. He writes, “I still cannot accept to treat her as if she can no longer share the sensibility and narrative we have created, and yet, more and more frequently, she can’t. She is happy much of the time. It is I, the caregiver, who, more often, am sad and despairing.”

I remember meeting Joan once and hearing her tell stories about her love for Chinese art and literature. I think about my own grandfather, who also has been suffering from neurodegenerative disorders for the past 10 years but who still loves telling stories about his military heydays. I think about the millions who are also going through a similar experience. My thoughts and prayers go out to them, as well as Arthur, Joan and the rest of their family.

One Response to “Why Caregiving Matters”
  1. phillip says:

    Stunningly beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

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