The other day a patient’s father called to express gratitude for his son’s recovery and improvement in general health after a visit to me..and soon he uttered the words that everyone in my ‘noble’ profession dreads, ” You are God to us”. I had to repeat myself quite a bit to convince him that l was anything but godly and God forbid that l should ever become so! It would take all the fun out of life!
But jokes apart, this call set me thinking. This obsession of the society to put doctors on a pedestal is not new, but neither is the tendency to hurl brickbats and thrash the life out of an erring health professional.
Why such extremes of emotion towards the world’s oldest profession? Deification on one hand and head – hunting on the other?!
I can still recall vividly the stench of rotting flesh and formalin as we first years filed into the anatomy dissection hall. The faint hearted fainted promptly while the braver ones fought to stand their ground,swaying perilously and threatening to pass out cold,any instant! Add to that the stark nakedness of each body on the stainless steel tables ,be it male or female! The students who remained conscious were struggling between ogling out of frank curiosity and averting their eyes out of painful modesty and shyness. What followed next was sheer horror! The seniors called upon the newbies and one by one ,we were asked to touch the feet of the bodies and take an oath that began something like ” hey, dead body debota…”…it is a wonder that l remember so much because honestly speaking all that registered that day was the foul stench and how the touch of a formalin doused corpse felt to my fingers! I am sure everyone of us was trembling for quite sometime thereafter and a substantial majority felt nauseous the whole day.
After the first major ordeal was over,we were subjected to subjects that required us to know by heart a host of unpronounceable terms and face a number of things simultaneously…items( no,not numbers..they were tests!),lots of writing and drawing assignments from our seniors ( apparently a time- tested tradition!) and more dissection hall experiences along with generous doses of lab work in physiology and biochemistry!
Just when the thrill of successfully clearing the hurdle of first year finals subsided,we were thrown from the frying pan into the fire! The ward classes in a real clinical setup,in a real hospital! I distinctly remember how l had trooped in with my batchmates into the medicine ward for the first time,all novices,fresh,eager,bright eyed,wearing our starched and ironed white aprons. The wards were full of suffering souls who had no idea what rookies we all were..they smiled at us and told us about their troubles earnestly ,in the hope of getting speedy relief…and believe me,we were bewildered and touched at the same time! And so began a chequered journey through the hallowed corridors of my alma mater,where l learned some of the most important lessons of my life,alone and with my peers.
We were taught not just lessons from textbooks but empathy,clinical acumen,to look beyond the obvious and always ,always,to do no harm..that was drilled into our heads and hearts. We may not be able to cure always, but we were to DO NO HARM. That is the very basis,the very foundation of this profession to which l am proud to belong.
The one thing that we were not taught though,was that the society sees us doctors in a certain way..that it expects a doctor to be serving humankind,but not earning well,that it expects a doctor to have no personal life, to be available round the clock,if not physically,then on the phone,that a doctor can never,never make a mistake at any step..an honest, unintended mistake.
As far as society is considered, if a doctor is poor,serving patients without a break, forgoing his/ her desires and comforts, never making a mistake,then and only then is he/ she thought to be in a noble profession and put on a pedestal and deified.
The way l see it ,we doctors are a hundred percent human..and we implore to the society with folded hands to let us remain so. We do not want to be worshipped,and neither do we want to be lynched by a mob… we simply want to be accorded the respect that any professional in any profession is deserving of.
Doctors spend nearly a decade to arm themselves with knowledge,to help cure or alleviate physical and mental suffering,not to hoodwink the society or rob them of their riches..and at the end of the day,being a doctor is also a means of livelihood, a job…they too need to earn and look after their families and do the very same things that the rest of the society does! Why call them by any other name and deny them that?
And just like in any other profession,we do have a few bad apples,a few deviants who will stray from the right path…let the world deal with such cases on individual merit..my plea, please do not paint us all with the same brush!