PHYSICIANS were never my favorite people. I'd only see them when I was feeling lousy like when the flu bug bit, or when I was downright apprehensive because of a scheduled blood test or mammogram screening. My opinion of doctors was similar to that of lawyers: They were rich, smart prima donnas who liked to golf and travel, and who saw clients in between.
Whats up, Doc?
But after spending two days with three island physicians -- an ophthalmologist, an ear/nose/throat specialist and a plastic surgeon -- my respect for the medical professional has zoomed higher than Pfizer's stock prices after Viagra.
As a participant in a mini-internship program put on by the Honolulu County Medical Society, a professional group of Oahu physicians, I learned how hard doctors work, how much they care, and that they are mere human beings trying to do a superhuman job in an often inhumane world.
My first three-hour stint on Monday was with eye doctor and surgeon Dr. Carlos A. Omphroy, who looks like a jock and has the stamina of one, too. The Mililani ophthalmologist literally saw a new patient every five minutes, bounding between two examining rooms like a basketball player going up and down the court.
Yet Dr. Omphroy took great pains to inspect each person's eyes with care. He drew diagrams when necessary, clearly enunciated his findings and directives, inquired about medication needs and then shook each patient's hand warmly before departing for the next case. His intensity was amazing.
Monday afternoon was spent with Dr. Roland F.S. Tam, an otolaryngologist who deals with ear, nose and throat disorders at St. Francis Hospital in Liliha. He did follow-up exams with patients who had undergone everything from a complete laryngectomy to the removal of polyps from the sinus.
With new clients -- one complained that his voice was becoming hoarse, another had an uncontrollable nosebleed -- Dr. Tam did a series of tests involving ear, nose and throat, since all three are interconnected. The meticulousness of this professional, who performed the first computer image-guided sinus surgery in Hawaii last November, was impressive.
Tuesday was spent with Dr. Gregory C. Caputy, who shattered my perception of plastic surgery as superfluous vanity. In his Kapiolani Boulevard office, he spent most of the morning examining those suffering from very bad skin conditions, and removing by laser the tattoos of former gang members trying to turn their lives around.
He also injected a woman's face with collagen to get rid of some wrinkles around the mouth -- although I thought she didn't need it. But, Dr. Caputy reminded me, who are we to judge if someone looks good or not? If she will become happier and more confident after the treatment, why begrudge her that option? His compassion was reassuring.
SPENDING two days shadowing three doctors made me realize the folly of my misperceptions. Sure, they make a lot of money compared to the general population. But they go to school and intern for years before earning decent wages. They work long hours, starting from pre-dawn until late into the night. They are always on call. Their decisions affect lives. And if they make mistakes, like humans tend to do, the attorneys are ready to pounce.
Imagine, despite of all these demands and stress, physicians still care about what they do. They care about us. Maybe it's time we started appreciating them.
Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at
DianeChang@aol.com, or by fax at 523-7863.