We ask our doctors to give us basic rights to care but what rights do doctors have from us? We ask them to understand us. Why not try to understand them, too? Out of sheer humanity, sure, but also out of self-interest. I believe we can get better care by knowing our healers.

Treating the sick isn't easy, either medically, where knowledge is often thin, or emotionally, where defeats may be as common as victories.

No one has done a better job of taking us inside doctors' minds than Washington writer John Pekkanen, whose 1988 book, "M.D.: Doctors Talk About Themselves" (Dell, $4.95), was based on interviews with 70 doctors. Let some of them speak for themselves:

On the job stress: "Every night when I go home, there will be three or four patients who could possibly blow up on me. I classify my patients who die into three categories . . . those who die {when} something I do falls apart, those who die from overwhelming disease, no matter what I do {and} those who die from my own errors in judgment."

"The hardest part of my work isn't the technical or intellectual commitment, it's the emotional commitment I feel for my patients and their families and the utter desolation I feel when I fail them as I did with this little girl. The victories I forget."

"Damn it, I wish the public would give us a little credit for being nothing more than human beings who use what they know to try and make people better."

On changes in medical practice: "I feel miserable every time I tell a 72-year-old Medicare patient he has to show up at the hospital at 6 in the morning for his preoperative tests, so I can operate on him at 10 . . . By 6 that evening, he can stand up, and I have to send him home because that's all Medicare will reimburse, and he can't afford $600 or $800 on his own to stay an extra day . . . This is not the way people in the richest and most technically advanced country should recuperate."

"The children's hospital where I work used to be run by a doctor, now it's run by businessmen. We used to advertise our excellence by publishing in journals, by teaching and by presenting our studies at medical meetings. Now we do marketing."

"I do complicated orthopedic surgery, and it's very stressful . . . The increasing load of paperwork and malpractice problems only make {it} more stressful . . . The medibusiness is becoming like agribusiness and the military-industrial complex . . . The physician is becoming more of an employee."

On bad doctors: "A doctor who applied for privileges at our hospital didn't meet our standards, didn't come within a mile . . . After we turned him down, he demanded a hearing . . . Even though this case did not go to court, it cost the hospital more than $10,000 in legal fees just to answer the question of whether this guy met our standards."

"I operated on a young man with a work-related foot injury . . . He contacted a lawyer to look into workmen's compensation {and} another orthopedic surgeon claimed the young man needed {more} surgery . . . He did not! . . . This is a racket, a liability scam, and it goes on every day . . . A few rotten apples really do spoil the barrel, and they are very busy rotten apples."

On putting patients first: "I work with AIDS patients all the time . . . I don't think about my own possible infection all the time, but I do think about it . . . "Here I am at 45 spending all night operating on patients who are often drunk, on drugs, abusive and ungrateful, and often not getting paid . . ."

"I was offered a position as an oncologist in New England . . . They said, 'We guarantee you $600,000 by the third year,' close to 10 times what I am making at my teaching hospital . . . My greatest concern is that I'll grow callous with patients and think of medicine only as a way to make money."