Thursday, August 03, 2006

Prima Facie

prima facie \PRY-muh-FAY-shee; -shuh\, adverb:
1. At first view; on the first appearance.

adjective:
1. True, valid, or adequate at first sight; as it seems at first sight; ostensible.
2. Self-evident; obvious.
3. (Law) Sufficient to establish a fact or a case unless disproved.


To many of us, the desire for healing, for health and wholeness is prima facie, or obvious, a self-evident goal and marker of life's quality. From our priviledged middle-class vantage point, we go to the dentist for prophylactic cleanings, make sure we see our doctor, read labels on the foods we buy, make informed decisions about our healthcare and diet, and see this as a responsibility and a wise decision.

As healthcare providers, we are often faced with individuals who don't seem to make the same choices, who appear to behave in ways which would lead some observers to decide that our patients don't really care about themselves and have blatant disregard for the tenuousess and preciousness of life. But this is never truly as it seems.

What does one say to the middle-aged man whose father lashed out in blind drunken rages and threatened to kill the child who next spoke a word? How do you help him to see past his own addiction, his predilection for the numbing qualities of cocaine and alcohol?

How do I impress upon the thirty-year-old with AIDS that this current regimen of antiretrovirals is his final chance, that if he blows this one by not taking his meds correctly and religiously, the virus will mutate in ways which will preclude any futher successful treatment, pending the invention of new drugs which he could tolerate?

What do I say to the woman whose history of trauma leads her to acts of desperation, to somatic complaints for which we have no remedy, to blind rages that no counseling can relieve?

When patients' state insurance cuts all dental care for four years, ceases to pay for eye glasses, and does not cover $50 pairs of compression stockings for peripheral vascular disease, how does one convince a patient that they are valued and should value themselves? Patients have said, "The government doesn't value my dental health, why should I?"

How does a citizenry feel valued when their taxes increase, their benefits shrink, and the government appears to consistently abandon its neediest members while pursuing questionable policies which only enrich the wealthy and well-connected?

So, prima facie, at first appearance, it is easy---too easy---to impose our own middle-class standards of self-care and conscientiousness on our patients. We see their plight through eyes which have never been denied glasses. We speak through mouths which have received the dental care which they needed. We leave for work, bellies filled with nutritious food which fuels our morning, an equally nutritious lunch packed in our bag or awaiting us at a local restaurant of our choosing. As tax-paying working citizens, we feel validated, our education and relative luxuries cushioning and softening our days and nights.

Sure, it's easy to be self-righteous, to preach the gospel of the priviledged. It's another to see the plight of the disadvantaged and forgotten, and see clearly with eyes stripped of their middle-class blinders. Can I always do it? Not a chance. I'm as guilty as the rest.

We must all be reminded time and again, and we healthcare providers must also remind ourselves that there is only so much we can say, so much begging we can do, so much pleading we can verbalize. There are those whose psychic spines seem to have been broken beyond repair. It's hard to not be discouraged, not to feel angry, to blame the patient, their families, the government, the world, "the system". Our perceived powerlessness can be maddening to the point of tears.

At first appearance, there is so much we just cannot fix. But in the end, we fix that which is fixable and we move on, letting compassion guide our steps and hearts, and allowing realism to remind us that we can only do so much, and even we must sometimes let go.

Prima facie.
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