Like any other superhero, people believe that their doctors are made of steel and that they never get tired or hungry. His body can withstand the rigors and demands of his profession. He gets this resilience from years and years of training: from a pitiful yet irrepressible medical intern to an exhausted but obstinate resident and eventually to a perspicacious and celebrated consultant. The road to doctor-hood is a rough, arduous and demanding journey. It is never easy getting that powerful white lab gown.
But what many don't know is that the doctor is most of the time, if not all the time, an ordinary human being, faced only with extraordinary circumstances. The superhero image that one sees in a doctor is but one side of the doctor's persona. In fact, it is nothing but an illusion that both the doctor and the patient would agree to exist. For a patient in distress, he needs a savior from his troubles and he finds the image of a doctor as one that fits perfectly this role. For a doctor tasked to "consecrate" his self in the "service of humanity", the very words he spoke when he took his oath as a medical doctor, he is the person obliged by sacred duty to save the patient from his sickness.
But the superhero image is really just...well, an image, a misty mirage that blinds those from the real face of the doctor. Yes, doctors are people, too. As a doctor, it is hard sometimes to let go of this comfortable illusion, a convenient distraction that will allow me to exert my influence over my patients. But I too, like any other doctor, am a human being.
It is not true that we doctors don't feel tired. Doctors like me are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Residents in the hospitals or health centers work more than 24 hours straight, trying to stay wide awake even when the body and the brain would opt to shut down. And by the time we find a slim chance of getting some rest, a cry for help is heard and we would need to rush to our stethoscopes, don our white gowns and in haste attend to the needs of others. It is not easy being a doctor. It is not a comfortable job.
So, to the patients I have met and will meet, I say this:
Yes, I too get tired. I get tired because I not only give out my efforts to make you well but I also absorb your own exhaustion. I get tired not only because of the physical stress but because of the mental stress, thinking of what to do for you and how to make you well. Even in the dead of night, I have to read and study again to make sure I can better understand what is making you ill. In the morning, I have to wake up early because I know you and many others are waiting for me, hoping that I could bring you some better news about your illness. The doctor gets tired and it's his job not to make you notice that.
I too get frustrated, like other doctors do. I get frustrated when I could not help you. When I thought I knew what's keeping you ill, only to be outsmarted by your sickness, I could not help but feel crushed. I get frustrated whenever I see the same frustration in your eyes. I too get stumped sometimes and it can be a huge dent on my ego as a doctor. I know that you think I have all the answers and it can be disappointing to hear from me that I don't know the answers to some of your questions. But I have to look smart. I have to look authoritative. I have to, so you won't feel hopeless.
I could feel every weight of your pain, every ounce of your hopelessness. In every wound I care for, I could feel the aching and agony. On every feverish skin I lay my hands on, I could feel the strain and exasperation. In every last breath of a dying patient, I could feel the desperate clinging of loved ones in the room. I take your discomfort and I would try to transform them into a smile or a reassuring grasp on your hand. It can look like it has disappeared but it has never left. Part of it I would carry with me, when I leave the hospital or when I go home. You will see me look tough, sometimes unaffected, but inside I feel weak, spent and decrepit.
And when I am alone, I do what other doctors do whenever they are alone: I cry. Yes, doctors cry too.
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