“The preached doctrine is that you cannot be a good physician if you get emotionally involved with your patients. My doctrine is that you cannot be a good physician unless you do get emotionally involved.”
—Stephen Kopits, MD (Little People Surgeon)
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Kopits in 1981 when he visited Peoria and presented a grand rounds at St. Francis Medical Center on the surgical challenges of little people (dwarfs). Dr. Kopits was an orthopedic surgeon and the world’s expert on the surgical management of conditions suffered by little people.
During the day he spent in Peoria, Dr. Kopits examined little people at the St. Francis Clinic where young resident physicians shadowed him and saw how he interacted with these patients. I specifically remember Dr. Kopits lifting a little person up onto an exam table and then sitting on a stool opposite the little person and facing her eye-to-eye rather than from a higher vantage point. He also introduced himself to these patients as “Stephen Kopits” and not “Doctor Kopits” because he said he was not born with the name “Doctor”.
During the last four decades, I have been emotionally attached to my patients in one way or the other. How can one not be?
And this brings me to Mr. Valcin who texted me this morning stating that his legs continue to swell. He is my Haitian patient who has serious heart disease and needs surgery.
Mr. Valcin has been accepted for pro bono heart surgery in the United States. However, he is still in Haiti because he was denied a visa to come to the United States by the American Embassy in Port au Prince.
Mr. Valcin is a professor who teaches pedagogical theory and has a quiet dignity about him. And his wife’s worried face drags me in to the suffering and plight of her husband. I am emotionally involved with them whether I want to be or not.
And so I continue to reach out to the American Embassy in Port au Prince. I have asked them to reconsider Mr. Valcin and his applications for a visa.
This action may or may not work, but this has to be part of my job. I don’t particularly enjoy this, but I am emotionally involved. His life depends on getting a visa.
I probably didn’t learn too much about caring for the surgical problems of little people that day back in 1981. But Dr. Kopits taught us a lot by showing us his kind manner and demeanor. It was easy to see that he could be emotionally involved in his patient’s lives. And this was not a bad thing.
John A. Carroll, MD
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