Jan 8, 2010

The Medical Life (Friday Links)

The blogs of health workers can be a fascinating peak into the minds and motivations of those of us in medical life. I enjoy the funny or amazing true stories on blogs as much as the next guy, but what's really interesting to me are the lives of people who choose to work with sickness and suffering every day.

Judging by the number of TV shows on us it appears that the public at large is fascinated with medical students, nurses, and doctors too. Truth be told, we aren't as good looking, dramatic, or perfect as our TV counterparts. We are normal people, but personally I prefer real people over stock characters with stethoscopes.

One of my favorite nurse bloggers, Maha, used the turn of the decade to tell the fascinating and personal story of her life over the last 10 years. Her personal growth during her journey to become an ER nurse is very interesting reading. Behind the sharp wit and toughness there is a humanity and sensitivity that makes her blog one of the best out there.

I found another glimpse into the personal motivations for a medical life over at Asystole Is The Most Stable Rhythm. Besides having the coolest blog name ever AlbinoBlackBear has some great stories. Her encounter with a dying child years ago as a nurse left her wondering if healthcare was a good choice for her. The answer was yes and now she is in medical school. Asystole is a wonderful med student blog and I can't believe it took me this long to find it.

So what leads people to choose a medical life?

Ella the med student and Old Girl both followed Maha's lead and posted their own biographies of 2000 to 2010. Doctor D shall follow in the footsteps of these great bloggers and give you a brief picture of how he has transformed over the last decade:
At the dawn of 2000 young D was a college senior applying for medical school. He was a bold, iconoclastic idealist who was certain he would save the world. Young D wore a long beard with long hair and was certain that human suffering was a puzzle that could be fixed if people just cared enough to help others. He figured that medicine was the highest and purest calling a person could choose for their life.

Then came reality: years of medical school, followed by years of residency, followed by the ultimate goal—being a "real doctor."

After a decade of ceaseless work I no longer think I am going to save the world. I have saved a few lives, but it was by doing my job not through any heroism. Jesus may save the world, but doctors and nurses certainly won't. We simply do our jobs day in and day out.

In the end, the medical life is a life like any other. It isn't always fun or sexy. We are not so brilliant or so heroic. We are humans who take care of humans, so our work is fraught all those troublesome human complications. Some days we love our vocation and some days we want to quit, but we do our best because we care about our patients.

In 2010 Doctor D is more tired and less idealistic. These days D is more more proud to be Ms. D's husband and Little D's dad than he is about that MD he spent so many years dreaming about.
What do you think? Did you imagine doctor's lives to be more heroic and dramatic? Do you work in healthcare and have a story about your own medical life to share? Doctor D always enjoys the perspectives and stories you tell in the comments.


Albinoblackbear said...

First off--ummm...golly *thanks* for the blog props! What a nice way to start off a Friday morning.

In terms of idealism...I never planned on being a nurse, it was an interesting chain of events and circumstances that caused it. I had absolutely NO idea what it involved and certainly had no delusions of health care grandeur.

Then I never planned on staying a nurse as long as I did. Working in the ED made me a teensy bit jaded I would say--and coming to medical school with these people who have stars in their eyes about medicine is just something I cannot relate to. When someone is really puffing up their chest about 'becoming a doctor' I have to hold back from pointing out that some days it involves sticking your finger in peoples orifices and washing vomit off your shoes. It isn't all BMW's and golf trips to Hawaii. In due time they'll figure it out.

I *do* sometimes think our work is heroic. Just because a firefighter is 'doing his job' you wouldn't say that his live-saving isn't heroic.

But the heroism lies in the sacrifice of all the missed Christmases, the long hours, being surrounded by people who are in pain, afraid, dying, recovering. Witnessing. Being abused by patients, the system, funding, night shifts. The heroism is not in the sensationalized application of paddles to someones chest.

There is nothing wrong with a little idealism, don't get me wrong. But I think your realistic view is a healthy one (especially what you are proud of these days).

Er...sorry for the long-winded comment...but..you asked! :)

Grumpy, M.D. said...

For all the shit this job entails at times, there's still nothing I'd rather be doing.

We all gotta work. Might as well do something you like.

tracy said...

i have such an idealic view of physician's lives, it's not even funny. i have "White Coat Envy" like you would not believe and admire doctors and medical students probably waaaaaaay too much. If i could do my life over and change things, i would have gone to medical school.
All that said, i know your lives are far from perfect, even though i wish they could be, for your sake!

PS Watched a very good interview last night with Atul Gawande, MD about the Healthcare crisis.

Josiah O. Morris said...

It's funny how I used to think about doctors. I did have the idea that all of them golf, drive fancy cars, and generally live high on the hog. It's also funny to realise that even six months before I made the decision to become one, having to deal with vulgarities produced by patients put me off of the whole thing completely. Furthermore, I lacked any semblance of self-confidence and couldn't fathom being responsible for the lives of others. In this regard, and in several others, I thought, and still do think, that all health care professionals are heroes. If there's one thing I've learned from shadowing and med blog-reading, it's that medicine is generally a game of personal sacrifice. Quite heroic.

One of the things I told myself after deciding to shoot for a medical degree is that I'd be a revolutionary doctor. My personal politics and several terrible experiences with a handful of physicians over the years fueled this. While I understand that I alone can't achieve some of the goals in medicine I set, I'm still willing, in the face of not-so-good odds, to give it a go and motivate others to come along with me. We'll see.

The science of medicine still has me star-struck. I can watch reruns of Code Blue, for example, on Discovery Health and still get just as excited as I did the first, second, and perhaps even third times I watched them. I'm in love with the idea of carrying around all of that knowledge. I also quite enjoy a good puzzle, and can't wait to start making diagnoses, especially for uncommon conditions. Breaking bad news is not something I look forward to, and can easily see myself crying right alongside patients in certain cases, but to be able to give a person a name, and hopefully treatment options, for their ailment is a powerful thing. I myself have kind of an off-the-wall problem, for which I saw four different doctors before a diagnosis...which I made myself. I put a lot of hours of research into it and definitely got some lucky breaks along the way, but I did it! The fifth doctor I went to about the problem didn't treat me like some sort of loon, listened to what I had to say, and took the evidence I'd gathered into consideration. They ordered the test to confirm it, and sure enough, I was right! Because of that experience, my self-confidence not only got a boost, but I made up my mind that I was going to be the kind of doctor to go all out for a patient, spending hours upon hours, if necessary, hunting down an answer. I understand now that such cases aren't nearly as common as the popular medical dramas make them out to be, but when they do come along, I'll be ready and thrilled to take them on.

Then again, maybe things will change. I'm not so naive as to not think it a possibility. For now, I'll keep dreaming and see how things pan out a few years down the road.

Old MD Girl said...

"Old Girl", eh? That kind of makes me sound like a dog that's about to be put to sleep, don't you think?

I never really thought of being a doctor as particularly heroic.... I'm in school because I wanted to be a researcher. It turns out I also like caring for patients, but I never had any illusions about saving the world. Maybe that's unusual?

Thanks for linking me!

Anonymous said...

When I was 15, my asthma suddenly got really, really bad. I ended up in the ER I think 3 times in one week. 2 of those 3 times, there was a nurse who joked that he was 'Much better looking than George Clooney', since this was back when Clooney was regularly on ER.

In all seriousness, though, without the really awesome GP I had when I started law school, I would have had to drop out by now. She left the practice this summer, and if anything I am more pleased with her replacement.

I value them because they remember the huge list of health problems I have and coordinate my care well. It's not that they apply the paddles and zap me back into breathing...it's that they give a damn. They actually care about my quality of life. About how I'm managing school, and how my health is involved in that. They do have to refer me out to a lot of specialists, because of how complicated I am medically, but that doesn't make me respect their abilities any less. If anything, I have more respect for them because they are able to differentiate between things they can treat and things a specialist ought to have a look at. They also respect my intelligence and the fact that I research my conditions and the possible treatments for them.

Are they perfect? No. Are they radically changing the face of medicine, or saving hundreds of lives? No.

But my life as I know it would not be possible without them. So maybe they are heroes.

Doctor D said...

ABB -Your blog props are well deserved

Dr. Grumps -I should clarify: Despite all my bitching, I love what I do.

Josiah -"I made up my mind that I was going to be the kind of doctor to go all out for a patient, spending hours upon hours, if necessary, hunting down an answer." Yeah, that was me too. Unfortunately hours upon hours is impossible in today's world, unless you never want a family or friends. (BTW Josiah, I've been reading your blog. What's with the Victorian language? Did you just come out of a time machine or did you read a lot of Dickens?)

Old MD Girl -Sorry, I have a tendency to abbreviate names.

Tracy and BrilliantMind -Thanks for being so nice about doctors. I hope we can live up to your opinions of us.

Anonymous said...

I know it places a burden on doctors to regard them as "heroes," but most of mine keep on doing heroic things, and so I remain in awe. Just being willing to step into an exam room and deal with whoever and whatever you find is pretty heroic, in my opinion.

In the near future, one of my doctors will have to make an unenviable choice. In the middle of a lengthy procedure, he will have to decide whether to treat a malignant tumor and thereby risk seriously injuring me (because of the tumor's unfortunate location), or to leave it alone knowing that it will then be free to grow. No matter how it goes, he's a hero to me for being willing to place himself in what seems like an incredibly stressful position and for having worked so hard on many levels to prepare himself for that sort of responsibility.

Maha said...

Thanks so much for the kind comments and mention Dr. D! I do believe I'm blushing - and quite profusely!

It's funny how the idealism is slowly replaced by "just doing my job" and wanting to make it home on time. I wish I could say that each shift results in learning profound life lessons and seeing really cool procedures but most of the time, its just about trying to ease another person's distress.

Doctor D said...

Wow, I made Maha blush! That has got to be the new pinnacle of my medblogging career. Seriously though, I really enjoyed that post and your blog. You are one of the most interesting bloggers out there.

Josiah O. Morris said...

haha, yes, I realise my dream isn't particularly realistic, but maybe every once in a while an opportunity to really dive into a case might present itself. Besides, the way things have been going with my love life, family seems but a laughable dream =P Just kidding. Kind of.

Why, yes, I did indeed just emerge from a time machine, or at least that is how I have felt since I was a wee tyke. I've never read any Dickens, actually, outside of what may have been required in high school! It's just a goofy bit that I fall into and out of...I used to write endlessly, and in all sorts of styles. Neglected it in my early 20s and am just now picking it back up. I'm rusty, but it's a fun distraction =)

Zac said...

Excellent links, D... I've never seen Maha's blog but I gotta start :)

PS got my links up 'n functioning again, you're on my blogroll.

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