Saturday, September 24, 2011

The best medicine

So I have an aching wisdom tooth. Again. Because the last time it hurt, I went to the dentist and he, like most American doctors, gave me the "choice" whether to keep the tooth and get a root canal or to have it extracted, and refused to make the choice for me! And of course, I chose to keep it. I'm kicking myself for that decision now, but at the time, I have a feeling I subconsciously wanted to avoid a tooth extraction. 

That's the thing about American medical care. I haven't been able to decide whether it's great that they leave all decisions to you or not. I mean, in theory, I should be making decisions that affect my body. But in practice, am I really qualified to do so? I don't think so. I sometimes prefer the Indian doctor's way. They make decisions, give you their honest opinions based on their experience, and you give them your full trust. (Of course, there are some other aspects of American medical care that are just great, but neither is perfect.)

As I was thinking about this difference in approach, I was reminded of this dermatologist who I had once consulted in my teens in India. I have this "birthmark" on my right hand that tends to show up when I get tanned but lightens up otherwise. After a particularly bad summer, it kind of stood out and I wouldn't stop obsessing about it. Perhaps I was going through a period of typical teen identity crisis, but whatever it was, I promptly consulted a dermatologist about it. Not surprisingly, he said that plastic surgery was the only permanent solution, but since I was too young, he wasn't recommending it. Adamant, I kept asking him if there was any medicine that could help. Anything at all. After saying 'no' a couple of times, he simply looked me in the eye and said, do you know how many patients I have seen who have a mark just like that on their face? You're lucky it's on your hand where probably no one notices it. Some might consider this brash or belittling a patient's problem, and I'm fairly certain that the average American doctor would never say anything like this, but it proved to be the best medicine for my problem. It made me reflect on how trivial the whole thing was when there were people out there who were dealing with more serious issues. I've never once complained about the birthmark since. 


  1. A honest advice from a dentist: go for tooth extraction...avoid the RCT... u will bless me later!!

  2. Yup, defensive medicine is a big problem in the US healthcare system and a big driver of costs. In theory they make you go see your primary care doctor etc. before running expensive procedures/tests but that breaks down when the doctor is afraid to say no to anything or make a decision for you. The entire universe runs on the statistical notion of 95% confidence; for an American doctor that unfortunately reads 5% chance of getting sued!

  3. Strikes a chord.. I had this teeny spot on my cheek..which i was very keen to "laserically" remove.. kudos to my awesome doctor who made me see light :)

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