Something stunning happened to me last week. My doctor, in whom I placed my confidence for twenty years, invited me to find another doctor. I am still reeling from the experience and it’s as much my reaction as it is the event itself that has caused me to think about the way people interact now, not in intimate relationships, but in wider social and professional situations. When I told a couple of friends what happened, they were not as shocked as I was, but merely made suggestions about finding another doctor. My goodness. How very disposable we all are.
Particulars: I had been waiting an hour and twenty minutes to see the doctor. This was an extraordinarily long wait-time. The longest I’ve ever had to wait is probably forty minutes or so, usually less—twenty or thirty. I complained. Not loudly, rudely, or offensively, but I did complain, especially when confined to the little treatment room (I have mild claustrophobia.) His response was to invite me to find another doctor. I could only answer“What?” I think my reaction caused him to pause a bit, and possibly to want to retract his suggestion, but I’m not sure—I was too shocked to notice. He said something about what the nurse (who’d received my complaint) had said, but in the end, that didn’t make any difference. I couldn’t get around what he had said. After twenty years?
Obviously I thought he was a good doctor or I wouldn’t have stayed with him for twenty years, but I recognize that my assessment was based on my perception of his medical knowledge, never on any manifestation of his caring. I did occasionally wish he had more to say about flagged test results, more to suggest, perhaps; and I wished that I could find more reassurance than I did in his casual indifference to my questions and concerns, but because I believed in his expertise, when he didn’t worry this or that, neither did I.
I now have to adjust not only my perception of my doctor, but also my attitude toward my own health and well-being. It’s not a pleasant discovery to make at 73 that one has placed all one’s confidence in someone who, frankly, my dear, doesn’t give a damn.
But this is only one element of a change much broader and deeper. What this incident illustrates is the widespread acceptance of the disposability of persons. My doctor’s waiting room had plenty of patients. He didn’t need me. He probably didn’t give a second thought to the incident when I left. Twenty years of trust was irrelevant. Why should we be surprised by the millions of abortions (“I can have more children later”) or euthanasia (“Resources are better spent elsewhere.”) And it was the social indifference toward husbands’ abandonment of their wives and children that necessitated the feminist movement.
Such ignoble actions and callous attitudes would once have been socially censured, but not now. I remember a conversation in the teachers’ lounge many years ago: Several of us had pregnant students in our classes. It wasn’t an unusual situation even fifteen years ago. One of us remarked, “You know, that never would have happened in our day. A pregnant student wouldn’t have been allowed to attend school.” True. She would have been censured by public opinion. We agreed that, while that censure was cruel and often quite unjust, it had to be admitted that just about all children had married parents. There were very few single mothers and absent fathers. Convention exists for a reason, and censure has its purposes, cruel as its application may sometimes be.
And censure, cruel or not, has not been eradicated; it has only metamorphosed into political correctness. Censure has not changed; only its objects have changed. We condemn preferential treatment of one race over another to the point of criminalizing it. The motive for that condemnation is not different from the motive that would have condemned a pregnant girl in public school fifty, forty years ago, and it’s not different from the condemnation of a man who would abandon his dependent wife and children. Censure is the expression of society’s righteousness, varied by its vision of itself. Everything is different now—and nothing is different.
My doctor was protecting himself from criticism (which is how he perceived my complaint). We interact with each other now in self-protective ways. Such self-protection is deemed justifiable, even advisable. Like “protection” in other, more intimate, interactions, everything professional, commercial, political, and social now seems grounded in covering one’s euphemistic rear.
I will find another doctor, but it’s unlikely that he or she will be any more trustworthy than the one in whom I placed all my trust. What our Lord himself censured was censure itself, whether its object is a pregnant student or someone who gives preference to their own race—both kinds of censure are wrong, because censure itself is wrong. It breeds such fear, such need for self-protection. We are all weak and sinful, but how much better, how much easier it would be just to say with sincerity, “I’m sorry you had to wait so long.”