Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 13, 2013
The Greg Louganis story has returned to prime time, giving me the opportunity to remind my readers, and my students, that this is an example, of how not only do doctors care about their patients, but patients care about their doctor. In this case, the doctor was my beloved old boss, Dr. James Puffer. As the story goes, and some of you might remember, Greg Louganis hit his head during the Olympics of 1988, at which point, Dr. Puffer ran to stitch him up, enabling him to get back in the game and win a gold medal. Many years later he was quoted as saying that his biggest regret was that he did not tell Dr. Puffer that he was HIV positive. I tear up, as I think about this confession, as it speaks to the intensity of their relationship. Sure, the story has a happy ending. Dr. Puffer is HIV negative, and Greg Louganis is now 53 and seemingly enjoying his life. Yet, this story, even without it’s positive outcome, is a tale of connection, which I fear will be lost as medicine becomes more dependent on electronic devices. If a faceless doctor came to stitch him up, would Mr. Louganis have felt so bad? I do not think so. I think modern medicine has made it such that both physicians and patients believe that “buyer beware,” which in this case the buyer is the physician. This bond, where the patient cares about his physician, leading to the patient taking better care of himself, seems to me, is slipping away, as we, as a society, become more dependent on machines to evaluate our symptoms. The joke, on medical teams, is that the doctor will not believe the patient’s leg is amputated until he sees the X-ray. I am compelled to remind my readers that I love technology and I am excited about how modern science is rapidly changing how we track people and disease states. The complex area of following patients over time is much simpler with machines which contain the notes about the last visit and the last time the medication was changed. However, if these tracking systems are valued over the personal connection between the doctor and the patient, then I fear that medicine will be less fun for doctors, and patients will lose incentive to take care of themselves. The human touch, remains in my mind, a vital force for promoting wellness. In the case of Greg Louganis, that human touch, could have had fatal consequences for Dr. Puffer, but luckily, instead, it brought to light, the humanity between patient and doctor.