That invisible thingie that just fluttered past you was 2013. Most of 2013, at any rate.
2013 marks the 21st year since I was let loose on an unsuspecting public to practise (ahem…) medicine on the patient (and the not-so-patient). It may please you to know that I have done a lot of practising in these two-and-a-bit decades. It may also please you to know that there is some truth in the old saying, “Practise makes perfect.” While I’m nowhere near perfect just yet, I can look back and say that I honestly know a lot more now about making people well than I did in 1987, when I first began studying medicine. I also know now that there is far more to know about making people well than I ever imagined way back then.
Initially, my interaction with medicine was a love-hate relationship. Back in the days, I was a hard-nosed scientist who found a box (and a label) for everything. Medicine, I quickly found out, was a soft science at best, and a hard art at worst. I hated what I called the “pseudo-science” of medicine. I loved the lab stuff, where I could measure and eventually predict outcomes. I hated the living beings who didn’t behave like my test tubes said they would, or should.
The more patients I saw, the worse things got. Not only were the living beings not following the test tube patterns, they were mostly doing their best to destroy the test tubes. During my internship year, I estimated that somewhere between 80 and 90% of patients under my care where there because of lifestyle choices. That is somewhat discouraging if you find your identity in making people healthy. For every one patient you “fix”, eight or nine more tumble into the emergency ward because of wrong or stupid choices they had made.
Parallel to this journey of deepening frustration was a journey of deepening awareness that life was more than chemistry and physics. Unless I learned to love that “Something Else” of life, I was never going to be happy as a doctor. Ironically, as I became sick myself, I came to know more about that “Something Else”. For 21 years now, my health has been under regular attack from all quarters and this has left more than one scar. Yet I have come to realise that my diseases are not my enemies. Rather, they are my teachers and my guides. Each successive disease gives me the chance to understand more people better in their own suffering.
Suffering, I found out, provides you with a unique and unparalleled ability to place yourself in other people’s shoes. And placing yourself in your patients’ shoes is quite often the first (and biggest) step towards their healing.
I learnt that each disease I get will give me the chance to “practise medicine” on myself, finding out which interventions work, which don’t and what the side effects and outcomes are. This leaves a much deeper impression than reading a package insert, I can tell you!
I learnt a lot more, too, such as:
- Health and wellness are not the same things
- Medicine and healthcare are not the same things either
- Health and disease are not each other’s enemies
- Death is not our enemy
- Happiness is not a simple concept
- Laughter really is the best medicine
- Questions are often more important than answers
- Medicine is an art, possibly the hardest art of all
The list goes on and on. But you get the idea.
Over the next couple of months (or however long it takes), I am going to “write out” the Things I Have Learned on this journey so far. If you want to understand health, wellness, happiness, disease and even death in a different way, I invite you to join me on this journey (it’s free, need I add?).
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Thank you for your time. And your patients…
To your health!