Understanding Bedside Manner in an UberPool
I’m always on the look-out for a story. Sometimes, they happen to open the front seat of a car and come right in.
A few weeks ago, I got into an UberPool and a young doctor joined the ride. He sat in the front seat and I heard him saying on the phone, “It’s the best kind of cancer to have,” “The survival rate is very high,” and “Anything you need me to do, I will.”
Then, he hung up the phone and apologized to the UberPool driver for being on his phone, explaining that his friend’s family member was diagnosed with cancer.
Exasperated, he said, “I don’t know what they think I can do. There’s really nothing I can do. What do they want me to do?”
A long pause.
Then, the UberPool driver said, “You can listen. When my wife died, that’s all I wanted. I just wanted someone to listen. It really helps sometimes because you want to get stuff off your chest.”
And in that moment, I like to think that’s where the young doctor got a better understanding of what it means to have a good bedside manner. It’s not really about having an answer or diagnosis. It’s just a way of sitting still. It’s about showing up, understanding and expressing empathy.
But that’s probably what’s tough about being a doctor. This young doctor, like his colleagues, are trained to do something. Examine, look at labs, perform surgery, monitor the situation, analyze — all that listening can seem passive — like it’s not accomplishing anything. But by just being there — and by being present — the act of listening can go a long way toward healing.
For the rest of the ride, the doctor didn’t say much. It was the driver's turn to talk. He told us about how he moved out of his condo, how he learned to re-build his life and how he leaned on family members during difficult periods.
The doctor nodded along and said:
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“That must be really hard.”
“I can only imagine.”
And that was enough.