I’ve walked these sterile corridors for so many years but not once did I walked it without my chest drumming like crazy. I remember April some years back when I first walked on these floors as a newly minted physician, proudly clutching my very first lightweight cardiac stethoscope ( I used to have the disposable kind that one can buy in drugstores for P250), amazed and frightened at the same time at the chaotic scenes before me. “I’m ready”, I told myself. It was not long after when I realized that no one can ever be ready for the battles a doctor faces. No one. Not even a dreamer such as I am. I witnessed how people I’ve been with in the starting line all transformed into someone unrecognizable halfway through the journey. I lost my idealism somewhere along the tiny spaces I tried to curl up in one night too many, to steal a desperately needed sleep; maybe I lost it somewhere along hallways where charts fly, and voices are raised, where hearts are broken and pride are pulverized; when my worth is challenged again and again, until I could no longer remember how it feels like to be secure in my own skin. It is only in Medicine where people are stripped off all pride and self confidence so that one day, they can trust their very own judgement. Ironic that doctors are broken in pieces before they can be trusted to heal others.
“Being a doctor is not just putting on that long white coat”, my Dad used to say to me. Being a doctor is that drumming of the heart before facing every patient, that fight in the soul every time we wrestle with death for someone else, and that stony façade we’ve been trained to wear when we wanted so much to cry. Emotion had always been a doctor’s great nemesis. It slows us down when there is so much work to be done. It taints objectivity, and it weakens the resolve to face more sufferings.
We can’t be healers forever, in fact, we can’t be healers for too long. Doctors die young, go mad or both. And the length of time to create a doctor (or mutate one) is simply too complex to compensate for those we lose along the way. Some die from stress related illness, a huge number commit suicide and more are murdered for mundane reasons. Is the long white gown still worth it?
My life may be worth more than the stale coffee I’ve consumed from the old hospital vending machine all these years; more than the blinding light of day after going on duty for 35 hours; more than the piles of census and case reports; more than the social media shaming; more than the accusing words from disgruntled patients and relatives who thought I had all the answers; more than the family holidays and birthdays I’ve missed; more than the money I could have earned; more than all the disappointments I’ve learned to collect one by one. But one life I make better is what defines who I am as a healer. The day I decided to walk the hospital floor, wearing the white long gown that represents the profession is when I ceased to be just me.