A Doctor’s Life

Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning understanding that the health and welfare of people is a tangible reality instead of a foreign concept?  After years of hard work, dedication to the medical field, and learning everything from the anatomy of the human body to the microorganisms that cause so much infection and disease, a select few earn the title of medical doctor.  The attainment of this title comes with the privilege of applying knowledge and expertise to abide by the guidelines of the Hippocratic Oath and “experience the joy of healing those who may seek my help” (Lasagna 1964).  

For those of us who do not have a medical doctorate, it is difficult to grasp the idea of having the power to heal, or the ability to interpret the symptoms a patient is communicating and reading lab reports to conclude what ailment may be intruding upon a patient’s health.  Still, even though those of us without this degree do not have this same understanding, is that liberating in and of itself?  Is it burdening to always have the health of other people upon your conscience? William Carlos Williams writes in “The Practice” that “It’s the humdrum, day-in, day-put, everyday work that is the real satisfaction of the practice of medicine; the million and a half patients a man has seen on his daily visits over a forty-year period of weekdays and Sundays that make up his life.” 

As a reader of this prose, I infer that Williams is explaining that his work is a satisfying burden(my italics)because his work has “always absorbed him.” The monotony of each day which entails doing the same things makes the physician seem like he is a prisoner to his work.

If you think about the day in the life of a general practice physician, it may go something like this:

1. Wake-up in the morning to a pager/cell phone ringing with information about one patient or the other.

2. Go into the office to see/treat 40 patients with hundreds of different symptoms and ailments.

3. Go to the hospital/nursing home to do rounds  

4. Consult with other doctors about patients that were seen that day

5. Go home and think about the cases/patients that were seen today

This lifestyle definitely is not ordinary.  Williams writes, “Time after time I have gone into my office in the evening feeling as if I couldn’t keep my eyes open a moment longer.  I would start out on my morning calls after only a few hours of sleep, sit in front of some house waiting to get the courage to climb the steps and push the front-door bell. But once I saw the patient all that would disappear.”  

I ponder the thought, if the lifestyle of a physician is imprisoning, what redeems this vocation as one that some of the world’s brightest and most caring people choose to do? I feel that the act and art of healing other humans legitimizes the medical field and to be an active participant in the healing process.  The smallest improvements of a patient can stimulate great joy and the feeling of achievement and good.  Before taking this Medical Literature class I had never really comprehended the reality of experiencing words.  This is probably because we do not generally think of experiencing words, rather we experience life and put it into words.  In Williams, The Practice, he writes,

“The physician enjoys a wonderful opportunity actually to witness the words being born. Their actual colors and shapes are laid before him carrying their tiny burdens which he is privileged to take into his care with unspoiled newness. He may see the difficulty with which they have been born and what they are destined to do.  No one else is present but the speaker and ourselves, we have been the words’ very parents.  Nothing is more moving.” 

Willams says that nothing is more moving than to experience words such as being born.  Other words that are experience by doctors are being healed, recovering, receiving help.  Are these the experiences that outweigh the “vocational imprisonment” of being a doctor? Probably so.  I cannot say that I have personally experience the words “being born” as a doctor has, but it is an intriguing thought that if I choose to follow a path in the medical field could one day, the thought may one day materialize into that experience.  Personally, the potential for that experience is exciting and thought-provoking.  I want to experience words.  

Simultaneously, I think literally of the William’s written words.  This beautiful explanation of how physicians can experience words really inspired me to evaluate the ability for language and words to be so perfectly formulated and placed together to convey an idea as simple, yet as complex as the one above.  This is what doctors do.  They formulate appropriate ways to address, console, and inform patients.  That is the art of words.  That is literature.  Doctors are both Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

At the end of the day as doctors reflect upon the lives, they have played multiple roles in their vocations.  They have empathized with patients in every shape, form, and condition.  They have established relationships with their patients whether the care that was given to the patient is reciprocated from the patient back to the physician.  All the while they fought to remember the essence of who they are because so much of their time was focused on everyone but themselves. 

-Lee Goatley

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About Lee

I am a collegian who is in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue a career in the medical field. Because of the enormity of this pending decision I am going to utilize this blog as a medium for reflection and rationalization. I will combine two of my passions, literature and science into a blog. The content of this blog will be stimulated by medical literature that has been written throughout the ages.
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One Response to A Doctor’s Life

  1. Maureen Tuthill says:

    William Carlos Williams has gotten into the “tissue of your existence.” Words and medicine. The movement in the medical humanities today is to keep those elements in constant communion with one another. I know a medical interpreter who told me, “Without communication, there is no medicine.” And like you, I wonder what it must be like for a physician to have the constant burden of healing on his or her shoulders. How can you leave work behind when you are immersed in your personal life? Can you ever get immersed in your personal life? Do you have to be detached to place your patients in the back of your mind when you are not with them? And is this detachment good? I would say yes in this case because it is a question of survival.

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