one of the harshest realities of joining the medical profession is that of morbidity and mortality – or in “layman’s terms,” disease and death. It’s not like I had no idea that it happens – I know you people are rolling your eyes and saying to yourselves, what an idiot, of COURSE people die – but that’s not the point. Knowing that somehow somewhere someone is dying is different from, say, having a dead body in front of you and having to cut it open. Or walking to the canteen to get a cup of coffee with your Ipod and noise-cancelling headphones and hearing piercing screams from outside the ER, turning and seeing women tearing at their hair and beating the ground. I never know what to do then. I hate turning around and walking away as if I don’t care. Because I do. But what am I supposed to do, stand there and stare? Or can you imagine if I actually went over there? They’d see the white coat and shoot daggers at me.
You have a white coat.
You were supposed to know what to do.
Why is my father/son/husband/brother/friend/lover dead?
Why didn’t you save him?
It doesn’t matter that I’m a student. It doesn’t matter that sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a life, gone. And I wouldn’t have an answer.
And then there are those times that I’m walking around campus and the mortuary van almost runs me over. A black contraption that looks like the getaway car in a bad crime movie, it has a way of showing up when I’m in a peculiarly happy mood, as if it’s there purely to remind me that people are dying all the time. And I’m supposed to be learning how to save them.
The honest truth is that I’m afraid. I don’t know if I’m ready to have a life where it’s my job to save people. Where lives are actually in my hands and my decisions may be the turning point between life and death. I know that many doctors feel that way and then they turn out to be perfectly fine at being doctors. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am afraid of death. My own death, my family members’ deaths, my friends’ deaths, my patients’ deaths. All of them. Every single one.
I can only hope that given a few more years I will learn to look death in the eye. I will learn to hold the hand of a dying patient and tell them that they will be okay. I will believe it. And I will tell myself I’ll be okay and I’ll believe it too.