Name: Dr. Zhang Xiao Ning
Dr. Zhang Xiao Ning and Todd Borgie, 2004
The numbers of people with Parkinson's Disease is staggering in China. 1% of the population under the age of 55 has it and 2% of the population of people over the age of 55 has the disease. This means that Parkinson's Disease in China affects millions! This is not unusual as Parkinson's disease normally affects 10-16/10,000 people over the age of 55 worldwide.
The drive around the world team met up with Dr. Zhang Xiao Ning, a doctor and professor of neurology at the Xinjiang medical University Hospital in Urumqi, China. Parkinson's is the third most common neurological condition faced by the population of Xinjiang (Stroke is first followed by epilepsy then Parkinson's).
As I sat amongst all the medical students I was given renewed hope. In this remote province in extreme Western China all these people were learning about neurology and Parkinson's disease. Traveling throughout the world I am reminded of how creative humans are. A combined international effort can surely defeat this disease. It just made me think of the millions of people around the world who are affected by this debilitating disease.
A young Dr Yang Xim Ling, the Parkinson's specialist, helped us with translating as we interviewed several people with Parkinson's Disease. She asked me a question that took me a bit off guard, but it was very profound. She asked me how to best communicate with patients. This question reminded me of how important a doctor patient relationship is, especially when dealing with a disease like Parkinson's whose symptoms can be so variable.
As a doctor, patients believe, she is supposed to have all the answers, however, a doctor's judgment is only as good as the information provided them by the patients. Their medical knowledge can lead them towards assumptions, but what the patient tells the doctor and asks the doctor is very important. I thought about an older woman I knew, she would go to the doctor and always tell him, "Everything is fine". But the minute she stepped out of the doctor's office, she would have some pain somewhere. She would seem irritated that the doctor was unable to detect these subtle pains, the pains that she didn't mention.
I was reminded how important conversations are especially when treating someone's physical condition. However, it is important to realize that treatment is a two way street. Patients have to divulge information and ask questions; doctors have to listen, research, and offer advice. Parkinson's Disease can affect people in many different ways, it is very important to establish open communication between the patient and the doctor, so each person can learn something from the other. Good communication always leads to better care.
During the course of the morning Dr. Ling translated while we talked with several people who were affected by Parkinson's disease. Although I was doing Parkinson's interviews perhaps the most profound thing I was reminded of was that doctors are real people too. Although I have great respect for what they have achieved through medical school and their practices, I realized that I shouldn't feel threatened by them. A doctor patient relationship is precious. They are like coaches, never be intimidated by asking them questions. An answer to a simple question might be the difference between suffering and not.