In praise of slow

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 47, No. 7, September 2005, Page 346 Editorials

I recently went on holiday—my usual summer vacation goal is rest and rejuvenation, and to devour as many books (usually novels) as I can because I seldom have time otherwise to escape. (And yes, I admit that I did take the latest Harry Potter installment with me!)

Just before I left I read an editorial in the paper about the SLOW movement—an international movement of people dedicated to “calming down the hectic pace of life, challenging the cult of speed and striving for a better balance between fast and slow to help us enjoy a richer, fuller life.” I’d not heard of it. The article directed interested readers to a book entitled In Praise of Slow, written by Carl Honore, a Canadian journalist. It piqued my interest so I bought it. Perhaps some of you have already read it but if not, I highly recommend it.

I know some, perhaps many, of us feel that our lives are driven by technology. Who can now do without a cellphone, pager, e-mail, Palm Pilot, Blackberry and the newest, fastest computer? Although I’m not a total Luddite (my editorial board colleagues might dispute this) I do feel that these supposed conveniences have complicated our lives and taken much away from effective personal communication and interaction.

E-mail has revolutionized communication in many ways but how many people complain about being e-mail strangled, taking 2 to 3 hours a day to deal with the volume of messages before being able to do anything else? I have not given my e-mail address to patients although I know many doctors who have, with mixed opinions. A number of them have indicated some advantages, others have said that they have been inundated with trivial questions and information, which has resulted in inefficient use of time.

In the process of trying to be efficient in dealing with the ever-increasing workload, some physicians are limiting a patient’s visit to one problem only. If it’s a simple problem fair enough, but I cannot see how this can possibly be helpful to someone with multiple medical problems who is likely on multiple medications, as many of our patients are. We need to be able to spend more time at the bedside. Honore says in his book that many people, frustrated with conventional health care, are turning to complementary and alternative medicine. The main reasons cited are that visits are unhurried and more time is spent listening to problems, and in this I have to agree. This is not to say that I am a believer in the treatments recommended, but in my own practice the more I listen to patients the more I feel that stress plays a significant role and medicine isn’t necessarily the answer.

It seems as if I am constantly aware of the clock when I am in the office. Some patients stand glaring at my secretary asking “Is she on time?,” “How far behind is she?,” or “Should I go for coffee and come back later or rebook?” I do my best to ensure that the people I see get the time they need, but it adds a lot of undue pressure. On the other hand, there is nothing more irritating than having a patient’s cellphone ring in the middle of an interview or me having to wait for a patient to finish answering a call before coming into my office.

If we are feeling this pressure, what about patients? It has been well documented that this age of turbocapitalism (as Honore calls it) has had its effects in terms of illness: hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, depression, and insomnia, all on the rise. We have all seen it. Children are often being so pushed to perform that they are developing stress disorders, eating disorders, depression and anxiety at an alarmingly young age.

So, the bottom line is balance—be fast when it makes sense to be fast and be slow when slow is called for. This slow movement advocates the slow philosophy—slow food, slow schooling, slow thinking, slow sex, slow exercise, and slow pleasures. Sounds good to me.

Wagrain, a city in the Austrian Alps, hosts a once-a-year conference in the summer for the Society for the Deceleration of Time. I think I’ll check it out!


Susan E. Haigh, MD. In praise of slow. BCMJ, Vol. 47, No. 7, September, 2005, Page(s) 346 - Editorials.

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