Monday, September 9, 2013

Blood On Our Hands

I have blood on my hands.

No matter how hard I scrub, the fingers retain their burnt hue.

Many cannot see what I see; They cannot feel what I feel. They look at me with my crisp white coat, picturesque family, and all the trappings of middle class success. I am a doctor. I am to be envied. How dare I suggest that the profession that has buoyed me through this tumultuous economy is flawed? I should be thankful.

And indeed, I am, on those days when I see past the red. For there is a dark secret bouncing in an out of the minds of those who took this oath. None of us escape. Not even the ones who no longer "touch" patients. The pathologist has the image seared on his brain of the slide with neglected cells. The radiologist spies a lesion in every chest to make up for the one that was missed.

Those of us with our fingers deeply enmeshed in the bowels of human suffering have more tangible remindings of our shortcomings. How many decisions were made with the best intentions but faulty logic? How many lives were taken? I'm not talking about malpractice here. That's too easy. I'm referring to climbing out on the branches of thousands of small decision trees with simple yes or no answers but dyer consequences.

How many of the rest of you live with the fallout of these type of decisions?

How many of you can track the fatherless child, the husbandless wife, or mourning sibling to a choice that you were in charge of making?

I can.

No one told me that no matter how many lives I saved, there would be scars, wounds that would never heal. No one told me that like the most base of murderers, I too would have blood on my hands.

This is my privilege. This is my envy.

I grew up without a father. I understand the pain of premature death. I am fully aware of the consequences of my decisions.

I would not choose this profession for my children.

The pure act of doctoring is enough to give merit to the sacrifice. But today we practice a bastardized art. The power of touch has been overtaken by expensive machines. A knowing glance and kind smile have been reserved for the computer screen.

And true love and empathy have been replaced by fear of a tort system that accuses and a government.

A government bent on destroying a profession we hold most sacred.

1 comment:

Cynthia Archer, MD said...

Amen. I wish that I were so eloquent as you in conveying such experience. As another member of the "Oath of Hippocrates" fraternity I completely understand. If only it were possible to have the layperson read this and see it for what it is, rather than as whining about our so called "privileged" lives. The cold hard fact remains that others will still fail to understand us, and their own misguided envy coloring the lens through which they view our experience. I fear that only those who practice the sacred art with their hearts and souls, as well as minds, can ever understand what it is like to walk a mile in our shoes. So we must live up to that which we pledged when our Doctorate was bestowed. To honor and respect those who taught me this art and those who follow in my footsteps as students practitioners of the same. More than ever, community has become our critical need. As soldiers who fought together in war, we may find a safe haven amongst one another, and thereby we can share our triumphs and sorrows without judgement or prejudice.