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Table of Contents
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 206-207

The gratitude problem

Department of Neurosurgery, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute, Trivandrum, Kerala, India

Date of Web Publication02-Nov-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. George C Vilanilam
Department of Neurosurgery, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute, Trivandrum, Kerala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/IJNO.IJNO_428_21

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How to cite this article:
Vilanilam GC. The gratitude problem. Int J Neurooncol 2021;4, Suppl S1:206-7

How to cite this URL:
Vilanilam GC. The gratitude problem. Int J Neurooncol [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 May 27];4, Suppl S1:206-7. Available from: https://www.Internationaljneurooncology.com/text.asp?2021/4/3/206/329823

I often crave to hear the words, “Thanks, doctor.” Many others like me too have the same craving. Most doctors believe that while doing their bit for humankind, they deserve some applause, a word of gratitude [Figure 1]. Not many patients, however, are generous with appreciation. Little wonder that medical service is often considered a thankless job. It is often packaged as a “service to mankind” rather than a professional service like any other.
Figure 1: Is the felt need by the doctors that the patient's family convey their gratitude for the medical services rendered, is too much of an expectation?

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Most people who seek medical care hold the view that illness is a stroke of bad luck. “Why me” is the common reaction to disease and disability. Most aren't prepared for that tryst of fate. Ailments often strike while men are cruising happily along life's highway. There is often no forewarning, no degree of preparedness. Then why thank the doctor, who is just doing his job? Perhaps,making money out of another's misfortune.

The practice of medicine and the layman's attitude toward the doctor have changed radically with time. No longer are men of medicine akin to God. Saving a life isn't an indebtable thing anymore. In the yesteryears, a “poultry farmer” patient would have given the doctor a dozen of farm-fresh eggs to express his gratitude. But, not anymore. Most patients would choose to avoid any over rapturous expression of gratitude to their doctor. Instead, seeking second and third opinions for their medical problems has become common practice. Even the best outcomes aren't deemed good enough. Chronic ailments set about the feeling that perhaps something more remains to be done. It isn't uncommon for the rich and affluent to seek treatment in foreign lands. Thereby, the stereotypic opinion gets further that state-of-art care is the purview of a privileged few and better done in richer nations.

One could argue endlessly for both the viewpoints on the gratitude spectrum. On the one side is the doctor who expects gratitude for his service; on the other, is a patient and family who feel that they have already paid for the professional service and needn't pay further with gratitude. Expressions of gratitude can perhaps be graded on a scale from −5 to +5. While +5 would stand for overwhelming expressions of thankfulness, −5 would suggest a greatly unsatisfied and resentful response to medical care. The remorse and a revengeful attitude could also transform into expressions of violence toward the medical caregivers.

A touch of balanced thinking from both sides of the hospital bed may find a solution to this “gratitude problem.” Doctors perhaps should let go of their infallible and elevated image. The care of people in their vulnerable moments is surely a venerable job. It truly deserves due credit, applause, and a word of cheer. Not all expressions of gratitude, however, are overt and demonstrative. A shy and reticent smile may at times mean so much more than a superfluous “thank you.” And sometimes, a grateful gesture comes very late, almost after a complete recovery from illness, many months after discharge from hospital. The fresh ebullient smile, the spring in the step, the bouncing back to life after illness, the return to “normal,” are all subtle ways of saying “thank you doctor.”

What about those who never get better from the illness, despite the doctor's best efforts? Those who suffer from the ill effects of medical care and adverse events? Do they also need to be grateful to their medical caregivers? Surely yes, because despite overwhelming efforts done in good faith, recovery and good outcomes may still elude us. The effort surely needs kudos, attention, credit, and applause. Some goals are so worthy that it is glorious even to fail.

There isn't any harm in doctors yearning for a “thank you,” but it needn't become a necessity that drives them forward. “Karmanyevadhikarasthe maa paleshu kadachana, Ma karma phalaheturbhuh matey sangah astu akarmani.” This quote from the Holy Bhagwad Geeta reiterates that one should do his duty without worrying much about the fruits in return. Men of medicine shouldn't get too intoxicated with the concept of being paid back with gratitude for their services. Sure, a “thank you” has a feel-good appeal, but does one need it to keep going? The fuel to keep the “cure and care machine” running needn't be a sick man's indebtedness.


  [Figure 1]


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