I sometimes feel that doctors have undermined the doctor-patient relationship by constantly trying to be helpful. Adult-to-adult relationships are not all give on one side and take on the other, so I laughed out loud when I read in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy the advice that Dr Kishen Chand Seth, an elderly tyrant and dean of the local medical school, gave to a patient:
“You stupid man. In ten to fifteen days you will be dead. Throw away money if you want to on an operation, it’ll only kill you quicker.’”
Many modern doctors must have been tempted to say something similar.
Dr Seth is annoyed by the way that the patient receives this excellent advice: “The stupid patient had been quite upset. It was clear that no one knew how to take or to give advice these days.”
Maybe that last sentence is correct. We are too inclined to mollycoddle, too reluctant to be blunt; and we may keep searching for the advice we want to hear rather than accept the best, often uncomfortable, advice.