Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Any Ideas for Helping People?

The EMT class is finished. That program made a big impression on me, in two ways. First, taking it in conjunction with a full academic course-load and a part-time job was a genuine challenge that pushed me far outside of my comfort zone. The fact that I succeeded in spite of the uncertainty and difficulty gives me a lot of confidence for the future.

The second way the EMT class affected me was that it gave me the chance to get hands-on experience as a healthcare provider during a clinical rotation in an ER. Here's what really struck me: There are people out there who are in a state of despair that is hard to fathom. They frequently turn up in ERs. Often, they have no one else to care for them. Some of these people are killing themselves with drugs or alcohol. It's heartbreaking, especially when the substance does more damage than the original problems that drove the patient to abuse it. The paramedics, nurses, and doctors who receive these patients aren't really trained or expected to address their patients' innermost emotional needs, so a lot of these patients don't leave the hospital on a path toward improvement.

I find myself wondering whether, a decade down the road, I'll be able to help them as a doctor. I find myself wondering whether, right now, there is anything I can do to reach out to those people. It's very clear that many suffering people don't need advanced pharmaceutical therapies to adjust their biochemistry; they need something more personally meaningful.

But what could that be?

I don't know. I'm asking around. Any ideas?

The classic idea of helping people--the idea that you have a few noble individuals who intervene in the lives of the less fortunate--probably doesn't work all by itself. For starters, it's impractical. There are too few helpers and too many people in need, and the complexity of people's problems extends far beyond the scope of any one professional's practice. In the current reality of medicine, for example, how could a doctor render the level of attentive care required to fully understand and counsel a single patient to address all of their needs, let alone those of every patient the doctor sees in a day? The other problem with the classic model is that it casts patients into a passive role. This denies them the satisfaction of driving the creative process known as healing, and it can even foster a sense of being a victim.

I'm being idealistic here, but bear with me. I believe the way to help people is to create a dynamic sort of support network in which people in distress don't stay passive indefinitely, always waiting for help and guidance from above; rather after they get the initial help they need, they are eventually challenged to reach out to help other people who need care and attention. Not only does this structure greatly expand the number of helping hands, it also helps every member grow personally and emotionally. Such a movement requires a set of common values that transcend any particular religion or outlook and can appeal to people in times of despair as well as in times of joy. It also requires a group of people who believe in the process enough to get it started.

What I'm describing probably seems too idealistic and too ambitious to be possible. But I can't stop thinking about it.

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