Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

In healthy acknowledgment of life's uncertainty

November 28, 2011

Tags: uncertainty in medicine, medical uncertainty, grace, Thanksgiving, serendipity, Scannell, fortuitous discovery


By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: November 27, 2011

Like many Americans this past week, my friends and I shared a turkey feast and gave thanks for all that was good in our lives and the world. But this annual ritual is always difficult for me, because I also think about things for which I am not grateful -- the economic and political turmoil in the world, people starving and homeless, my patients who have suffered and died, and ...

Still, I routinely manage to keep my sadness private, off the proverbial table. Pumpkin pie helps. So does a little wine.

While listening to my friends' expressions of gratitude, I am profoundly impressed with the role that happenstance has played in shaping everyone's fortunes (and hardships). Personal intention and deliberate actions have certainly played defining roles, but, to a large extent, our lot in life is the "real" estate of providence and serendipity. Through no free choice or conscious planning, we are born into poverty or wealth, in times and places associated with war or peace, to good or bad parents, and with variable genetic odds of living healthy lives. Our survival and opportunities to flourish in the world largely begin "as luck would have it." (more…)

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Can you be a doctor without ever touching a patient?

November 15, 2011

Tags: doctors and patients, physical exams, physical examinations, lost art of medicine, touching, technology, Scannell

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First publised in print: 11/12/2011

I was checking out the broccoli at the local grocery store when an ex-patient tapped me on the shoulder and began a conversation. I was relieved that he found me in the fresh produce section rather than the wine or bakery aisles.

Naturally, he updated me about his chronic medical problems. I was sorry to hear that his diabetes had become difficult to control, all the while registering the high-calorie, processed foods in his shopping cart -- along with the discounted post-Halloween candy.

Nonetheless, he started complaining about his current doctor -- her "uncaring nature." He was annoyed by her slowness in responding to his recent request for a prescription. He was frustrated with her for "looking at the computer screen all the time" they were together in clinic. And after reciting a sad litany of further grievances, he paused dramatically for a moment before asking, "But you know what irks me the most about her?"

He stared intensely at me and waited, with an expectant smile on his face. Not knowing the answer, I began to wilt faster than the broccoli in my sweaty hands. The "doctor in me" wanted to answer his question correctly and assuredly, because he seemed to be suffering such estrangement from his current physician. He needed a healing dose of connection with an MD, I thought.

Luckily, a grocery clerk appeared and asked whether she could help us. My ex-patient instantly replied, "No. I'm just telling my old doctor here how my new doctor has never examined me." (more…)

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