Perfectionism can be good—if you’re a doctor


Being a perfectionist can be debilitating and prevent many of us, including myself, from taking an action that will move us forward in life. But we must let that self-limiting trait go. There is no such thing as perfect. However, being a perfectionist may be a quality more doctors need to cultivate.

It has been a very long time since I’ve published anything. I've started many pieces, and if you’re a writer you may be able to relate to this, but I haven't finished any. Writing, you see, for me, is a process. I splash onto the page then I edit and let it percolate in the coffee grounds of my conscious and subconscious. The next day I look at the words again and edit. I continue this process for a few days, usually a week, before I feel good enough about something to publish it. Often it takes longer than a week. My first book took many many years.

In order to be in this process, I have to be running on all cylinders, have all gears meshing, have all my ducks in a row (and every other tired old cliche you can think of to insert here right now) in order to get past my perfectionism. However, I haven’t been. I haven’t had all my marbles, or at the very least my writing marbles, along with my writing fingers, lined up.

At the end of April I broke my right ring finger, and yes, I’m right handed. I thought a simple procedure would fix it. WRONG. The procedure wasn’t so simple and although the doctor didn’t explain what he was doing, I let him go ahead and do it anyway. The surgery site got infected and my finger turned into a foreign object I didn't want to acknowledge was living in my home (much less my body) as each day, twice a day, the bandage was ripped off, I lamented and cried, and yes, oh yes, cursed.

I’ve learned so much in these last four months, specifically—about sterile water, how to stand the sight of blood, the real color of substances when you have your flesh open to the bone and your body is trying to protect itself with an eschar (you can look this up, I had to). I learned about debriding a wound, which antibiotics I’m allergic to, the difference between a urinary tract infection and yeast infection, (by-products of taking four different antibiotics for six weeks) how to contact my doctor through their on-line system, and how to use the pharmacist to find drug interactions. I’ve also learned how awesome my mom and dad are (she flew from Wisconsin to California to nurse me) and how to communicate my needs better to my husband who throughout this entire ordeal has done his own learning.

I also discovered that doctors, in many respects, don’t have to live by the same rules the rest of us do. If I’ve not given good service or had to cancel a class, under most circumstances, I give a refund. If a waitress or store gives you poor service, you can choose not to pay, see the manager, return the item. You have some recourse.

Often, not so with a doctor. I cannot return my finger to him to put it back the way it was. I cannot even take legal action against him because you see, I didn’t lose my finger (hooray!) I just have a finger that will never work the same. My injury isn’t bad enough for a lawyer to take the case. 

But that doesn’t stop the perfectionist writer in me. 

It’s been almost four months and fortunately I’ve gotten past my need to write the perfect Yelp review. Now I simply have to trim the words (who knew they had a word-count limit). By using these review words as a starting point, I’ll contact the Better Business Bureau and the medical board and every medical review place online that I can. I will contact the urgent care doctor who recommended the doctor and medical facility.

Perhaps if they would have had even a smidgen of my perfectionistic trait, they would have given me better care and perhaps the infection wouldn’t have gotten so bad. Perhaps I wouldn't be disfigured and handicapped in a small way for the rest of my life.

In 1839 Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote, ”The pen is mightier than the sword.” Perhaps it’s mightier than the scalpel too. As long as I don’t let my perfectionism prevent me from finishing this and all my intended reviews.