To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.
Abstract: The patient, a teenage boy with early male-pattern alopecia, is brought to a respected academic dermatologist at a famous medical center for an opinion. Sixty years later, the experience still resonates.
Keywords: doctor-patient communication, alopecia, baldness, consultation, cruelty, male pattern alopecia
My father was especially sensitive about being bald, which, in the context of the 1950’s, was not unusual. So, when I was in my mid-teens, and the familiar signs of thinning and receding hair began to show, he took me to see a dermatologist.
Determined to spare no expense to find a cure for my impending affliction he had found the most highly credentialed doctor possible—my older cousin’s medical school esteemed professor pf dermatology.
In the privacy of the doctor’s inner sanctum, which was impressively lined with shelves of medical books, my father began his questions.
“Doctor, my son is losing his hair,” he declared reaching out for empathy.
“Yes” the doctor replied with a poker face that smacked of indifference.
“But why?” my father pleaded quietly. For him, baldness was an embarrassment and hurt his own confidence. It might be too late for him, but he could still hope for a cure that would spare me.
“Look in the mirror!” the doctor ordered as his sarcastic sense of humor began to surface. My father was to blame!
With another plaintive cry for help my father repeated himself — “but why?”
The doctor fired back curtly —“maturity”. It seemed that he was determined to ignore my father’s fears.
At that point I could sense my father’s mood shifting from deference to frustration as he blurted out what was to be his final question. “Doctor, what can we do?”
After what seemed like an interminable pause, the doctor delivered his cruel verdict. “Well, . . . we can let him go bald—or—we can cut off his balls.”
This was the final blow for a man who, upon revealing his deep-seated vulnerability, was ridiculed and made the fool in front of his son. Humiliated and angry, he grabbed my arm and we fled out the door.
From that time on, my father never mentioned the incident or my receding hairline again.