UNC School of Medicine students response to “Love Alone”: part 1

PlayMakers welcomed students and faculty from the UNC School of Medicine to a special preview performance for Love Alone last week. We reached out to students to get their reaction to the play and the challenging issues it addresses. 

Check out what Katharine Liang Houck, a second year med student, had to say, and check back over the next few days for more insights from UNC students.

Katharine Liang Houck
By Katharine Liang Houck

My mother was diagnosed with glaucoma 20 years ago and has since slowly become blind. Three years ago she went to the ER because she was vomiting and had a severe headache. On a CT scan they found a pituitary tumor the size of a golf ball, and because she was already having minor hydrocephalus, she underwent surgery within the week. It turns out the vision deficits of glaucoma and deficits from a tumor that presses on the optic nerve are similar, though not identical. After the shock of the emergency surgery wore off and my mother recovered, her vision did not return. She was still blind. We began to question – had this tumor been caught years earlier and removed – could her vision have been saved? Was this grounds for a malpractice lawsuit?

I had the privilege this past Friday of attending a special UNC School of Medicine preview of Love Alone performed by the PlayMakers Repertory Company. Love Alone demonstrates how easy it is for patients to demonize physicians as emotionless and careless, and in parallel, how quickly medical professionals dismiss patients who initiate malpractice suits as money-hungry opportunists. This play gave us a cast of characters on opposite ends of a battle that no one can truly win, and yet managed to make us as audience members really want all of them to win.

For the last three years whenever I hear about a medical malpractice lawsuit, I always wonder what motivated the plaintiff to pursue litigation. What did they hope to get out of it? My parents briefly considered taking legal action but ultimately decided against it. They are content in their retirement, and even if they won a lawsuit, the money wouldn’t buy back the years potentially spent stressing over a trial. More importantly, it wouldn’t buy back my mother’s eyesight. It was fascinating to watch the disparate approaches that patient’s loved ones in Love Alone took to the legal process, and how the meaning of the lawsuit changed for each person as they progressed along different phases of the grieving process. As a medical student, it was also enlightening to see the complex interplay between the medical system and personal responsibility, and how the two influenced the doctor’s personal development throughout the trial. In this production it is painful to watch, yet so poignantly displayed, how often doctors and patients are on the same page without knowing it.