March 6, 2012
platitudes & choices
"You're going to be a better doctor because of it." I hear it a lot. People trying to cheer me up and make me feel better. I know why they say it. But the thing is, it just isn't true. Suffering doesn't imply a better person. Just because I watched my brother die of cancer doesn't ipso de facto make me a better doctor. I could choose the path of becoming cold, calloused and bitter, like I'm sure many do after watching one too many patients die. But the thing that really gets me is the false dichotomy it provides. My brother dies, and in exchange I become a better doctor. What a stupid choice. I would gladly trade becoming a horrible doctor in order to get my brother back. But it doesn't work that way. We don't get to make that choice. And it doesn't work in the other direction either. If I become a good doctor, it's because I chose to. And if my grief makes me more empathetic, it'd because I chose to delve deeply into my grief. The shit that happens to us, we have very little choice in the matter. We can only choose what to do with it after the fact.