20 April 2008

Reading medical memoirs

It is probably not surprising that throughout my post-bacc career I have been reading a series of medical memoirs, novels, and essays. There was House of God, which everyone reads at some point (and I have been told to re-read in residency), Better and Complications, both by Atul Gwande (he's kinda famous among the medical set), The End of Medicine (by a finance guy) and the Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (pop culture famous book on neurology by Oliver Sacks).

I recently started one by a female neurosurgeon, Katrina Firlik, and I am struck by how familiar it all is. I work in neurology, not neurosurgery, but I have seen many of the conditions she talks about. She didn't have to explain holoprosencephaly or hydrancephaly; I've seen them. I certainly don't have the knowledge base of peds neuro resident or even probably a well-educated, interested medical student, but I am conversant with the best of them on a limited subset of conditions.

The other theme that strikes me is that I have already begun the personal transformation that comes with being a physician. Dr. Firlik spends time explaining the sense of humor in the OR, the detachment of the physicians, the cold practicality that contributes to efficient care in times of crisis, but these paragraphs already ring hollow. They are exactly how I would explain it to someone on the outside, but there is really no way to make it ring true unless you've been there. Patients will never quite understand how you can tell them the worst news of their life and then spend an enjoyable afternoon hiking.

There are lot of things you don't realise when you start down this road to become a doctor, but this one might be the biggest, the most subtle, and the most significant. There is no undoing the change in how you view people and sickness; in this one way you will forever be apart from your non-medical peers.

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