Doctors lead the most diverse life of anyone. Before you get offended, let me clarify this by saying that I have thought long and hard before making this statement and this isn’t a reflection on your profession.
This is however a reflection on mine. Doctors live a life which is diverse in its demands, joys, sadness, accomplishments and its human interaction.
Within the same day, I have delivered pregnancy news to an unassuming 46 year old woman whom I’m treating for an abdominal infection and just happened to do a pregnancy test before sending her for CAT scan. Imagine the joy. She wants to keep the baby and now my job is tougher because I have to be very careful in the medication choices I make for her.
And on the same day I have delivered the news of metastatic breast cancer to a 35 year old who thought she was disease-free after completing chemo and radiation just eight months ago. Imagine the conversation. It’s not easy. Imagine the decisions. All tough. All not what the patient wants. But she lets me make decisions for her. She trusts me because she doesn’t trust her own body anymore. This level of trust is rarely shown by one human being for another. But you and I show this for a doctor everyday.
During the same day I meet a diverse population of people. Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, Pakistanis and Indians.
If my patient is stable enough, the conversation always includes a brief chat about my ethnicity. They ask me if I miss Pakistan. I tell them I do. They ask if USA feels like home now. I say it does. It’s generic with a new question here or there. Immigrants are identified almost immediately by their last name and their accent. It’s hard to avoid these conversations. Frankly, I have no sensitivity around them. My patients are a very unique population. They sometimes want to know more about me than their test results. I like that.
Sometimes I have an Indian patient. And then the conversation is deeper and more meaningful. If it’s an older Indian patient the conversation is usually about what they know about Lahore and Sindh and their own past life in some part of Pakistan. How their parents continued to visit Pakistan long after independence. How they would love to visit again. They ask me about where my parents are from. They don’t care much about my mother who wasn’t born in Pakistan. They want to know all about my father. And my grandparents. Embarrassingly, I don’t know much about what parts of India my grandparents or my parents in-law are from but my patients keep guessing. It makes for a fun conversation. They’re all very endearing in trying to build a connection with me. In a see if white people, there is instant attraction between two brown South East Asians.
They trust me with some of the biggest decisions of their lives knowing that I’m a Pakistani. Many of them insist on me seeing them after discharge too in the discharge clinic. Many of them insist that they have to speak in Hindi with them so they can explain their symptoms better. Get the sense of love here? I know you do.
When I started residency, all my friends were Indians. It never bothered me because when we became friends we never discussed India-Pakistan. We were just friends. With them I ate out, worked out, drove to work, spent more time than I did with my family just because we all were in the hospital so much more than at home. There was no animosity.
When I was a chief resident, my co-chief was an Indian. His wife and him are two of my closest friends until today. I can’t forget how he helped me and my daughter get home through a snowstorm when he could have stayed at home with his own kids. He was also my rock when my program director was less than enthusiastic to let me take the afternoons off for my daughter. He covered me most afternoons without anything in it for him. Jai and Sareetha have been like angels to me. Fortunately, we all work together now.
So it was natural for me to feel sad at what’s happening. Because not all of us see them like some of us do. Because I have never met any hostility from them. Because they’ve always been my support and champions.
I know my feelings are because of my experiences and if more of us experienced what I have, more of us would see the humans behind any war.
While war destroys a lot, one thing that it particularly destroys is the culture of humanity. War doesn’t know humanity. It doesn’t know compassion. It actually works by the antithesis of humanity.
War doesn’t ever bring any good. What war does is remind us that we are not safe. It doesn’t ever ensure safety. Ask ourselves! Did we realize until a few days ago how vulnerable and exposed we are.
I know everyone has a logic and a theory to rationalize military action. I work with many Vietnam veterans and a few of them told me that they didn’t know what
they were fighting for. While war is led by soldiers, they are actually executed by nameless, faceless people sitting in the ivory tower.
While war is carried out by a soldier, his wife and children pray for it to end. Some of them see no glory in getting their loved one’s dead body back for a war that had limited principle. They wonder, aloud and in their minds, when these issues are solved many years later over a cup of tea between two privileged men, why this required a death in their family?
I wish that the people on both sides condemned war. If not openly then in their minds and hearts because that’s where real things live. I hate seeing young men drafted for war, evacuations in devastation-prone areas, the coffins that come out and the bodies that are never buried.
So much talk of compassion when it comes to our patients. But so little compassion for our people on my Facebook and Instagram today.