Doctors without Blinders

The worst job in the world must be dishwasher at a Korean restaurant. The second worst must be medical school admissions selector, enduring essay-after-endless-essay in which the principal, if not sole theme expresses the applicant’s profound desire – indeed, their calling – to serve others, to heal.

If you had just recently arrived on this planet, you might be excused for finding such an experience heartwarming rather than nauseating. But anyone who has been under the care of more than, say, a couple doctors will understand the irony. I can scarcely think of a profession so riddled with indifference to the needs of its clients. And I say this after nearly two decades in the legal profession!

Fortunately, not all doctors are venal; and not every idealistic young healer-to-be has the compassion knocked out of them during the bizarre boot-camp of internship and residency.

I am reflecting on this decidedly mixed state affairs in the medical profession as my train rocks southward from Ahmedabad to Pune. I leave behind four sick friends, one of whom suffered mightily at the hands of a specialist he saw. While one of his acute problems was resolved, he was handled like just another piece of meat, with such unnecessary coincidental trauma that I wouldn’t wonder if he often thought he should be repeating his name, rank, and serial number.

I also said goodbye to two very inspirational people in Ahmedabad. One of them was Punam-bhai, the doctor who gives his services through Manav Sadhna, helping the poorest of the poor and, within India’s insidious caste system, the lowest of the low. The other was Shivana Naidoo, an incredible young woman I first met in the South of India in January while she was working on a tsunami relief project. Shivana has recently completed a yearlong Indicorps fellowship, and will soon be returning to the states, hopefully to medical school. She is as brilliant and sensitive a young woman as you would ever hope to meet – exactly the kind of person you would want to take care of you if you fell ill.

I have had the misfortune to find my way to a number of doctors who, in my view, should have their licenses pulled. But I have also had the great privilege to fall under the care of a number of wonderful doctors: Bill Hooker, a neuropsychologist who specializes in the treatment of head-injured patients, Bob Osario, the head of liver transplantation at California Pacific Medical Center, and Debra Osman, an internist who picks up the telephone to find out how her patients are feeling – even when they are not unwell. The common element among these excellent physicians is that their medical skill and insight is matched by their warmth and compassion.

If I can be forgiven the parochialism of choosing my heroes a bit too close to home, I would say that the most inspiring doctor I have ever met shares parents with me. There are surely other doctors like my sister Betsy; but they are well-hidden. At age 35, after stumbling into the role of sole caregiver to a close friend who succumbed to pancreatic cancer, she decided to pitch in her astonishing career as an expert in Russian foreign and military policy and head to medical school. Or I should say: pre-medical school. She had not a single prerequisite for medical school at the time.

BJ is now completing her residency in internal medicine at San Francisco’s CPMC, where she is known in equal measure for the quality of her care and the depth of her empathy. She is also busy raising my nephew, Tenzing, to be a lovely, generous little man. These are both full-time jobs, to which she brings a degree of pure, undiluted love I can scarcely comprehend. They are jobs she could easily to do satisfactorily-by-any-measure; but that is not the standard of giving to which she holds herself. She gives her full heart to everything she does. It is the only way she knows.

So as I travel to exotic lands to clip the fingernails of slum children, bring efficient cookstoves to internally displaced refugees, or dabble in any of the other small projects that capture my attention at a particular point in time, I am reminded of that I am a dilettante of service when compared to the unwavering dedication of my sister to the welfare of others.

Here’s to the very real promise that Shivana and others will follow in her footsteps.

0 Responses to “Doctors without Blinders”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blasts from the Past

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.


... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.


... because everyday is Mother's Day.


... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.


... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.


... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.


... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.


... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?


... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

Join the Banter!

At its most fun, memestream is a dialogue -- or, better, a cacophony -- rather than a library of overwrought essays reflecting a single point of view. For that, we need your two cents!

If you read anything on memestream that provokes an interesting thought, an emotion, a laugh, violent disagreement, passionate agreement, an anecdote, an uncontrollable non sequitur... be sure to leave a comment.

It will be no surprise to anyone who follows this blog that "all the best stuff" resides in the readers' comments. So don't stop reading when you hit the end of the essays. And add your voice to the discussion!

Enter your email address to follow memestream and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 56 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 376,690 hits

%d bloggers like this: