I recently read The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness. It’s the second book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy, which I quite like. The story line has very little to do with medicine, but in this book there is a lot of focus on the healers – basically, female doctors. As the book progresses battle lines are drawn and people have to choose sides – except, as in any war, some don’t want to choose sides.
One of these is a young apprentice-healer who believes that the resistance is doing as much harm as those in power. At one point, Viola (female protagonist) asks her why she won’t fight. She says,
“Every soldier out there is someone’s son. The only crime, the only crime, is to take a life. There is nothing else. To live is to fight. To preserve life is to fight everything that man stands for. I fight them every time I bandage the blackened eye of a woman, every time I remove shrapnel from a bomb victim. That’s my war. That’s the war I’m fighting.”
At the time of reading this, I was struggling with adapting to being uninvolved on my campus. If you know me, you know that I have been uber-involved since the day I arrived her. This year, my fifth year, is the first time I am not involved with student politics in some form or another. And a part of me misses it, but a part of me thinks it is great to focus on my work and nothing else (yeah right, I’m focusing on books too).
So I ask myself, did I waste my time in all those meetings and at all those rallies? Trying to change things that never changed? Would I be better off if I had stuck to my “job”: being a medical student, and learning to be the best doctor I can be?
I think of people like the Nazi doctors and Wouter Basson and I think: this is why doctors should not get involved in politics. They should stick to their mandate of healing. And I think of doctors who have changed the world – the heart transplant, penicillin, leprosy cures – and I think, this greatness was attained by doing their jobs. Not by running to parliaments and causing havoc. Right? I don’t know.
I have never thought that medicine should be my only job. I have always thought that I should use the job to improve the situation in my country and the world – by being involved in humanitarian efforts, or politics, or something. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe the best thing a doctor can do for the world is be a doctor, wholeheartedly. Sometimes I do wonder if doctors should not stick to being doctors, and nurses to being nurses, and maybe we should leave the politicians to be politicians and the teachers to be educators.
Except, then… who becomes the change-agents?