Archive for June 17th, 2009

Put the book back on the shelf

I should not be allowed to read books like this. They cannot be healthy reading for a chap of a certain disposition.

It began with the dressing station, a book I borrowed off another young, idealistic south african doctor while I was over there on placement.

If doctors have a tendency to have some kind of saviour complex then I whole heartedly sign up to it. Part of the reason I got into this job is this odd, naive notion that I am going to save the world.

The practice of medicine for me is one big emotional rollercoaster. You have to be of a certain disposition to really go and seek out misery, but that seems to be what I do. Enjoy is the wrong word for it. But at least it seems honest and real. At least it reminds me of what it is to be alive.

So reading six months in sudan was just tapping into someone elses experience. Empathising and feeling every moment, understanding every reaction.

I am honest enough to admit that part of me wants to do the same – live in a hut in deepest, darkest Africa, get paid nothing, eat crap, sleep little and work myself into the ground till I slowly come to pieces.

I have a tendency to self-destruction, and a tendency to pious self-righteousness. What better way to combine them?

The very reasons that I’d be really quite good at this kind of thing are perhaps the very reasons to stay away from it.

If I want to save the world I’d be better giving my money to people here. If I want to save lives, I’d be better off as a water and sanitation engineer than a doctor. But no one makes books or TV programs about that.

Health care may indeed be a noble profession but I know full well that I do it mainly cause it makes me feel good. There is something so much more self-satisfying about resuscitating an infant with meningitis in a bush hospital than there is about putting in an effective sanitation system in a refugee camp and saving 2000 lives at a stroke.


June 2009