The doctor I aspire to be

This writing was submitted by Jarrett Lee, a Year 2 Monash medicine student, and was first published in The Auricle‘s October-December Edition in 2022.

Human beings are fragile. We cut ourselves while preparing dinner, fracture our limbs playing a game of footy, and damage our organs with a tad too many beers. Medicine, however, never fails to offer a way out on every occasion. We have our wounds stitched. Our bones fixed. Our livers changed. But when confined within the parameters of what medicine is capable of, and confronted with the realities of decline and mortality, we as fragile creatures are often left unready and unprepared. It is often acknowledged that the duty of a physician, in its empirical form, is to fix. We pride ourselves on our ability to repair, to mend and to recover what is broken. But when we encounter a disease that cannot be treated, or a wound that is unable to close, when we as physicians are challenged with a problem that is no longer fixable, herein lies the moral conundrum. Do we forge ahead, knowing that medicine can possibly do more harm than good? Or can we muster up the courage to recognize the finitude of our lives, and accept the painful truth that we are in fact – dying?

As I foray through my last semester of pre clinicals, I grapple with this dissonance – the jarring disconnect between the principles of what medicine can accomplish, and its otherwise obvious reality. And strangely enough, the struggle to understand the inevitability of death and dying, albeit a grim one, has framed carefully my beliefs on what medicine truly sets out to do, and forged, in the crucible of mortality, the cornerstone upon which my beliefs as a doctor-to-be, have been built. Yet above everything, there remains the question,heavy but eloquent, one written so beautifully by Paul Kalanithi in his novel ‘When Breath becomes Air’. A question that seems to shoulder the weight of mortality, yet beautifully encapsulates the soft fragility of human life. And so, I ask – ‘what makes life meaningful enough to go on living?’

In the years to come, I hope to become a doctor, one who can answer this question with much confidence. A doctor brave enough to understand when to recognize defeat, and when to keep on fighting. One who isn’t afraid of telling a young mother that the cancer has spread to her liver, her brain, her lungs and her bones; and that she is almost certainly going to die. A doctor willing to lay down hard truths; that it might betime for her to halt the drugs and the surgery, and instead consider what might truly be important – spending time with her family.

In the years to come, I hope to become a doctor, not one who understands death, but one who understands what comes directly before. A doctor who understands that human beings do not fear dying itself, but the process of dying, the process of losing the very qualities that make us Human. And when that defining moment begins to bare its fangs, I can only hope to be the doctor who dulls the teeth of mortality, so death becomes just a little less – harrowing.

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