Saturday, May 7, 2011

But silk ties are the best medicine of all!

Prepare yourselves, I'm about to defend doctors.
"A small but committed pack of New York lawmakers has proposed a bill that would bar doctors and other hospital staffers from wearing neckties at the office. Are the lawmakers jealous of the uniform? Perhaps. But, according to State Senator Diane Savino, the law will help save lives. 'Adopting a hygienic dress code for medical professionals means less infections, less lawsuits, and lower medical malpractice premiums,' Savino explained."
The fact that needless fear-mongering is more dangerous than whatever infintesimal number of infections ties nurture aside, this is just one more (admittedly minor) consequence of the modern's rejection of authority, rank, honor, and other such antiquated notions. Hyperbolic, yes, but bear with me: reducing all doctors to one-size-fits-all elastic band-hemmed scrubs in varying pastel hues reduces them also the level of their patients, clad similarly in formless gowns. They are functionaries, simply being paid to do a job, deserving neither respect nor deference. In a way it's an extension of the technocratic mindset-- there is nothing in any one doctor that ought distinguish him from any other person-- bodies are scientific, you see, and can therefore be diagnosed and treated according to rigorous objective criteria, requiring no degree of judgment or trust on behalf of either the doctor or the patient. Eventually we will have algorithms to take care of this for us.

Where once it would be reassuring to see a professionally clad doctor, as presumably our lives are to some degree in his hands, and his self-presentation helps me to trust him, we now bypass the personal altogether and trust in objective science-- except that medicine, medicine, of all things, objective is not. There are nearly infinite personal considerations that must be addressed before a doctor can make a proper diagnosis or treatment recommendation: lifestyle constraints, patient neuroses, wary and hysterical family members, etc, not even counting the decidedly messy and often unrigorous way diagnoses are made in the first place (not that I blame modern medicine for having failed to catch up to the technological absurdities routinely on display in any American hospital drama you'd care to name), and the myriad competing medications available for prescription. If professional, dignified attire does anything at all to increase the perception of the doctor as not just a technician but an authority (especially if it helps doctors realize that about themselves), I say we're losing something important when we nix the ties.

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