Goodbye, Doctor

�© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Screw this satisfaction. Dump this happiness. Can you try to understand that I am fed up of both?” said Dr. Sahil. He was one of the busiest and most respected specialist in our town.

Surprised at a superspecialist friend speaking this, still impressed by his ability to identify and speak the truth about himself. I let him go on.

“There’s no guilt. There’s no regret. I have done my best since school. Topped everything. I did not feel the extra effort: I completed graduation, PG and Super PG by merit alone, again without a great effort. I have practiced over 15 years now. I have practiced with all my heart, and all my time. Now I don’t want to. Repetition kills me, and I cannot see anything but that now”. He paused.

We shared the best bond between two humans: mutual respect with no curtains. Either of us didn’t feel the necessity to modify speech for political correctness or covering up naked feelings.

I replied: “I understand. But we always thought that we need to save lives, give back to the society. So many will benefit with your genius”. I realized just as I spoke, there was something hollow about that. Or did he just uncover a mirror within me?

Sahil was as calm as a meditating saint. “I don’t feel so. Nobody’s saving lives. We use scientific knowledge to try and treat the medical conditions we see, try to comfort the suffering with our kindness, and earn our bread under the continuous threat of something going terribly wrong. I have studied for fifteen years, and served the society back for more than that.”

We sipped our coffee in silence for some time. Hans Zimmer’s ‘Discombobulate’ was playing in my chamber. Coincidences are too much sometimes. That heavenly symphony of all disconcerted instruments played by expert musicians is one of the best things in human history I think.

He smiled at the music. “I did not promise anyone that I will spend an entire lifetime doing what I don’t want to do anymore. I respect the gratitude I received, although it was rarely pure and sustained. I am sure many better than me will replace me and continue to treat patients who need care. I have never felt respected or accepted in the society, it was always with the caveat of ‘not all doctors are good’ that the people who I served looked at me, not the other way round. The government in India has never respected medical fraternity, in fact, doctors are treated worse than slaves since ages. There are so many among us who will go to any extent to be in good books with the governments, that they are hardly logical.”

He became serious. “I don’t want now to work hard all day and night, be serious all the time. I am fed up of having to prove my worth and abilities to those who I do good to. When almost every illiterate as well as the educated questions my intentions, I don’t think anyone deserves an explanation. Half my time is spent now explaining the patient what is good for them, why they must do the tests and take the medicines, how I cannot predict all side effects or complications and be held responsible for them. I became a doctor to treat people, not to cover up for their suspicious ignorance with my knowledge and time”.

Somewhere deep, I understood him. But the ego of a doctor: that we have “accepted” the responsibility to serve prodded me to argue with him. I said so.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Who are we serving, Rajas?” He asked. “Society? Government? People? To what end? Where do you see this service either recognized, rewarded, acknowledged or reciprocated?. Then again, where does it all end? The line of unaffording poor is unending, the complaints of affording are mounting, and I seldom get a peaceful night’s sleep, inspite of a clear conscience. I will retire without enriching my own life”.

I remembered my favourite author Richard Bach’s view: “The simplest questions in life are also the most difficult ones to answer”.

My lawyer friend, Shrirang Choudhary, had time and again pulled me out of civil hospital Nanded. I had this habit of ‘living’ inside the hospital, beyond the 12 hours duty. Shrirang would pull me out, we went to the riverbanks and he ensured that we talked for a few hours anything except medical world. “You will kill yourself if you spend all your life in the obvious negativity that is the milieu of any hospital. There’s more to life than being a good doctor. Treat yourself to the immense beauty life has to offer. You have only one lifetime, and limited active years”.

I realized how much I had wanted to pursue a career in poetry, music, philosophy and travel. It was with such ease and passion that I had given up all of it, proud that I will be saving lives. Now after 15 years of practice I saw another valid viewpoint.

“You get used to the satisfaction and happiness, the challenges and the victories in healthcare” Sahil went on, “I can understand that some may enjoy the repetition for umpteen years: in fact an entire lifetime. But can you please also understand that to me it feels like an artist who paints only one big picture or sings only one song in his entire lifetime?”

I knew what he spoke about. I was suffering the same, but had avoided to think of it.

“Do what you want in your spare time. Reduce practice. You must take a break” I suggested, “A long break.. Although you will not be able to explain this to many”.

“I wish I cared what people thought” he smiled, “And I don’t want to run away. I don’t want to do anything half hearted. I want to walk out gracefully. Like a saint or a seer walking out upon the world and going to the Himalayas. Why is that more respectable than a doctor wanting not to be a doctor?”�I did not have an answer.

�© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dedicated to those who understood this post.

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