Bedside Manner: Hope, trust, and responsibility
Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 12:01PM
John Strain

When I was growing up, I occasionally went to the eye doctor for a checkup. My visits were not the routine perfect recitation of the eye chart. I went in hopes there was some new surgery or advancement in medicine that could improve my "legally blind" vision. I still wanted to play little league baseball, shed my thick glasses, and someday drive a car.

I had the kind of hope children have. I had faith in grown ups and science. I believed in happy endings and that life was fair. One day, I figured I would walk into the doctor's office and he would tell me about a new surgery. I would have the operation and then my life would finally fall into place.

I was in awe of the doctors. They possessed the knowledge of a scientist, and the skills of wizards. I hung on their every word. Those men had the power to either crush me or to lift me to the heavens.

It was similar for my parents. The doctors offered advice and direction on how to raise a child that was legally blind. The best thing ever said came from Dr. Eubanks. He told my parents when my "condition" was known and reality was setting in, "He (me) already has one handicap. Don't make it two. Expect as much from him as you do your other children. Don't let him use his poor vision as an excuse to not achieve."

"Handicaps" are mainstreamed these days, but when I grew up, being "different" meant a special school and a lot of held beliefs by others that were untrue. I say this to give some perspective to the above. Reading in today's context, it may not sound like such a big deal. With the Internet, my parents would have just "googled" "congenital cataracts" and they would have instantly possessed all the information they needed. Information was something we did not have a lot of then. What we knew came from the annual visit to the eye doctor.

Fast forward 50 years. There never was a miracle cure. I had to adjust to not playing little league baseball and I never drove a car. I work as a crisis counselor in a mental health clinic. The tables are now turned. Sometimes I am very aware that the person I am talking to is looking to me with the same kind of hope I had taken to my eye doctor.

It amazes me how many stories I have heard in which hope was squashed by some doctor either unaware of their power or for some other reason did not nurture the individual's hope. This is tragic, because such a simple thing can have an huge positive impact.

This phenomenon of hope and trust is a powerful tool and is created when one person makes himself vulnerable to another. It is a trust and a responsibility. The helper has an opportunity to do much good or to do great harm. I try to blend honesty, encouragement, and motivation into a message that I hope increases their hope. It feels like love.

This is not something only doctors and helpers get to do. It is something everyone can do. Recall a time you helped someone and you knew it was meaningful for them. The gratitude and relief they exude is a wonderful thing to savor. One is in need, another sees it and responds with help, the first welcomes the help and is uplifted from the burden, and the helper is rewarded in the knowledge. This is love.

Our culture looks for cures in new breakthroughs, innovation, medication, and a host of other places. There are plenty of studies to show the patient's attitude or state of mind influences the outcome. When it comes to helping people, doctors are "leaving money on the table" if they do not utilize a good bedside manner. Hope is not a touchy feely thing for hippie doctors and weirdos. It is a necessary ingredient in the healing process. I know this from personal experience. I know it as a patient and I know it as a helper.

Hope and encouragement do more than help us heal, they make us better parents, bosses, employees, coaches, teachers, and children of God.

The power my eye doctor used to wield was possible because I believed in him. It took trust on my part. It took responsibility on his part. When the trust was rewarded, the bond grew stronger. Relationships grow like this too. You can deduce then how irresponsibility and mistrust affect that bond.

So there you have it - a nice way to love your neighbor. It helps him/her and it helps you too. You can believe it - trust me.

Until the next time

John Strain

Article originally appeared on John's Online Journal (
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