But no photograph!
One of the appealing aspects of reading many pieces of writing is that occasionally there are interesting finds (nothing to do with academic quality). Occasionally, students reflect on clinical medicine, which reminds me of what I used to write. I assume that what I see and think at the bedside has remained static, given that it has not been all that long. But that’s not really the case.
Regretfully, we don’t have a fresh pair of eyes to perceive the happenings of a clinical encounter any more. Try as we may to empathise, we are blinded to what the general public sees. Regretfully, we are too familiar with the egos, the hierarchy and the dark side of medicine to be alarmed. Regretfully, work life unbalance is the norm and working regular hours, uninterrupted lunches, having hobbies (research doesn’t count), are all terribly indulgent luxuries. Almost to be scorned for!
I’m glad that I wrote constantly, keeping “snapshots” through these ever-changing lenses. I think that’s why I write at all and continue to do so. The ones from clinical school are particularly good reminders of a time when I was more aware of how foreign and frightening everything must be for the patient and their families. Of when I was more sensitive to the feelings of non-medical staff. Of things that mattered then, and still matter now.
The medical lens
Working in any area changes how you see the industry, and how you see anything related to it. Everything is laid bare and the mystique begins to fade. How human nature plays out in that particular workplace is made clear, both through generous acts and self-seeking behaviours. For now, I’m still talking about medicine. Perhaps publishing and academia can share the spotlight next time.
It’s like the person who gets up at church and begins his sharing or testimony with “a 90 something year old man, living home independently, presented to me with…” It’s like not properly being able to talk about yourself because you sense that you are being risk stratified, which prompts you to explain without being asked that no you don’t want to harm yourself, that you neither meet the DSM criteria nor need to be on medications. No wonder doctors make bad patients!
One weekend, I was at a camp with many excited young children. As they played, I couldn’t help wonder who was going to break a bone or bump their head. Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and… Sure enough, one of the little ones had a minor head injury, fortunately from not too far off the ground and with no particular reason for concern. The other adults and mums started to chip in their well-meaning advice on what needs to be done next. They needed to see the doctor immediately. She might develop meningitis from the fall. The child should not be allowed to rest in case she falls asleep and becomes unconscious. As much as I avoid being identified with medical things when I meet new people outside of the hospital, here I felt obligated to reassure. Not only to reassure, but to clearly identify as a doctor so that the parents would not be unnecessarily concerned about things that they needn’t worry about.
That same weekend my friend lamented about how medicine changes you irreversibly. Knowing for example, the course of a common cold means that you can never have an unreserved sympathy for minor illnesses. You can be kind and patient about the discomfort, but will never give it more weight or seriousness than it deserves – all to the disgust of your family members or partners. Who knows, this might change. The lens of a parent, for example, seems to override any medical take you might have on a problem.
Weird to think that medicine has encroached into our identities, ever so gradually. Ever so prevailing, even when I’m away from clinical work. I think though, it will be equally weird when the big part of our identity that is medicine is one day overshadowed by something even bigger.