Just after I finished residency training, I considered applying to Doctors Without Borders. I was a newly minted specialist; a rabid women’s advocate (in my heart at least, even if it was not publicly expressed), who believed that my calling in life should be about serving others, specifically the downtrodden and oppressed.
The Che Guevarra-ness of it all!
I downloaded the MSF application form, which was around 5 pages long (and included an essay); filled it up; made a rough draft of why I wanted to work with their organization — and did not mail it. (It was quite un-practical and fussy to pursue that route then as the recruitment center was in Hongkong and I had no money. Besides I didn’t think I could work in a job that would entail not seeing G for like 6 months at a time — yeah, as far as careers go, love can be a bitch).
I am looking back on all that now as I contemplate my work in this country so far from home; caring for people that I will never understand even if I spend my lifetime providing medical services for them; talking to them in a language that I will never really comprehend.
There is a word in French (another language as baffling as Arabic), témoignage, or “bearing witness” that is like a guiding principle in Doctors Without Borders. I think about it — and I have come to the conclusion that témoignage is as much an essential part of the intimacies in our lives as it is in Médecins Sans Frontières.
To love is to bear witness to another’s universe. And it can be a terrible thing; and a magical thing at the same. Considering that a big chunk of our lives is lived inside our heads, occupying another’s POV is an overwhelming experience. But that’s what interpersonal relationships are all about — to enable us to step outside this insular thing called “self” and to be able to see another; and in the process, to also be seen for who we really are.
So that post was written over a year ago — pre-pandemic, as most of our lives seem to bear that demarcation.
Today, I am preoccupied by the phrase “playing god”. Being a doctor definitely falls under this category. Writers also like to imagine themselves as God (or god with a small g, when they are feeling more secure about their place in the world). Same goes for world leaders, local government executives and computer geeks who dream up codes in their sleep.
There is a book of short stories written by a Filipino doctor Arturo Rotor which has the title “The Men Who Play God”. Very apt, albeit not politically correct, but fact of the matter is during Rotor’s time most doctors are males who tend to regard their medical practice as their own planet earth and they are Yahweh.
It is very exhausting to play god. A lot of gods have been burnt out of their celestial existence and chose to change careers into medical administrators, or academicians, or medical informatic specialists, or have gone into non medically related businesses entirely.
I have been playing with the idea of leaving clinical medicine recently. I am tired of advising people on what to do with their bodies. And weary of women worrying about their pregnancies and their capacity of having a genetic progeny. I find it unjust that the burden of reproduction is borne by one gender while power over human lives is entirely monopolized by another.
The infuriating, sad, unfair truth is: God is a man — the fact that only females have uteruses and ovaries while males have physical and material power over them is an evidence of this.
Why should I be in a medical field that is party to my own subjugation?
I think I would rather cook. Feeding people, I think, is more morally justifiable.