Doctors populate my life in various ways. My father is a physician, my brother graduated from medical school and is applying for residency, and I have played patient to shrinks and surgeons alike. So I'll offer some anecdotes based on my experiences.
When I think of "doctor", first and foremost I think of him (perhaps predictably so). You know that trope about fathers being superheroes in the eyes of their children? I always used to feel proud of the fact that my father saved lives in reality. Given, his profession wasn't anything glamorous, and his hours were long and we rarely would see him, but we knew that he was making a difference in the lives of others.
As I grew older though, I began to resent my father's profession. I was jealous of his patients, who were able to see him when I couldn't. People would stop me in the grocery store to tell me how great of a doctor he was/is, and I'd offer a tight-lipped smile and thank them, but in my mind I thought of them as parasites that sucked the life out of him until he came home utterly exhausted, slinking up the stairs and collapsing into bed for a few precious hours of rest.
However, he loves what he does. I'm told that is what matters most in life.
During a particular summer in high school, my older brother shadowed my father around his office. One day we had this conversation:
"You know, Dad's really smart," he started.
"Yeah," I offer back.
"No not just like, brain-smart. He's people-smart too."
"You know how he always remembers who random people are when they stop him in the mall or something?"
"Yeah. Well, he writes notes in his charts. Not just about their symptoms or diagnosis or whatever. But like, if they have vacation plans, or stuff about their kids or ailing parents or whatever they chat about. And next time he sees that patient and reviews the chart beforehand, he remembers to ask the patient about how Bermuda was or how their parents are or whatever. Like, that's really smart."
And I remember thinking to myself, "No. That's compassion."
It may be that I idealize the notion of a noble, hardworking doctor, because the thought of my father pops up first. But then, there is my brother.
My older brother has apparently wanted to be a doctor since he was a kid. Having graduated medical school, he has earned the title of MD. He surely has the intellectual prowess to be a physician, but his personality is detestable.
We could be watching an episode of House and I could ask, "Wait, what does that mean?" My brother will give me the overly complicated medical answer when really all that was necessary is, "He's bleeding uncontrollably."
He is the embodiment of characteristics that I dislike in physicians. I understand that you must be smart to have made it to MD. But you don't need to prove your smartness to me. The charms of your technical terminology, while aurally impressive, are completely lost on me. 'Lower yourself without looking down on me!' I want to scream.
There are those of his generation of new physicians that want the pay without the work. The desire of "helping people" seems to become secondary to the desire of "making money." And there are better, less stressful ways to make money than becoming a physician.
I remember driving on the back roads with my father, gritting my teeth and gripping the steering wheel, practically spitting acid while recounting the events when my brother mockingly spoke of an anonymous patient's self-induced-ultimately-terminal condition to my mother and me. I was so angry, so shocked that a physician could be so hateful. And upon voicing my objection he replied, "Shut up. What do you know? You're not in medicine."
My father sighed and offered, "Give him some time." And that pedestal that I had held doctors to began to crack.
Besides the occasional broken arm or foot, depression and a bad knee injury have brought me into contact with other doctors outside of my family, for many years now. Indeed, I too am a parasite.
I competitively played badminton when studying abroad overseas. The team was ranked first in the prefecture.
That does not mean I was remotely good.
Back stateside, I was playing badminton against my gym teacher and all was fine until at one point in resetting myself, my body went one way and my knee went the other way. I fell harshly to the ground. It hurt like hell but I grit my teeth, thinking the pain would eventually go away. I stood up, served, and in the attempt to volley, fell backwards again as my knee gave out.
An orthopedic surgeon saw me.
"You hurt yourself playing...badminton?" His smirk managed to flow throughout his voice.
"Uhh...yeah..." I found myself getting irritated at my own apologetic manner.
"Right, right. Your tolerance for pain is probably just low. I don't think there's anything wrong, but your father wants to do an MRI. We can schedule one in a few weeks. You can do physical therapy if you want."
While the pain subsided some in a week, my knee kept giving out on me. The MRI came back reading that there was fluid in my knee that obscured whatever may be there.
"I still don't think there's anything, but we can do an arthroscopy to see." The surgeon made it seem like he was doing me a favor of staggering proportions.
I ended up snapping my ACL in half, with one half ripping off the inner wall, happily floating around, and severely tearing my meniscus.
The surgeon asked me, "Why weren't you complaining about the pain more?"
'Would you have listened to me?' I wanted to ask.
Four years and four surgeries later, the knee is still not better. I heal poorly, and it is unlikely that there will be any more progress. And that is when I realized that there is a limit to what doctors can accomplish, and you are a component of what limits them. What is equally important to what they accomplish is that manner in which they do so.
While I do not fear doctors, I cannot bring myself to revere them as I did when younger. However an important part they play in my life, they are still frail and flawed, callous yet caring.
Indeed, much like any human being.
Created: Jul 19, 2010Document Media