“Once again, I am defined by my degree. I have lost my identity to my vocation… Medicine has stolen my soul”.
The above excerpt is from a book called Karma Suture by Rosamund Kendal, which has nothing to do with sex (note: Karma Suture) and is in fact a highly entertaining read about a young doctor working in a public hospital in South Africa. However the reason I mention this book is not simply so you’ll have something to read this weekend. It is in fact because of how much I can relate to the opening quote of this post.
You see, medicine is an identity thief. At least, for me it is. From the day I embarked on the journey to become a doctor, medicine has stolen a little piece of me along the way. This sounds horribly sad and cynical, but let me explain.
Whenever I’m introduced to someone, the topic of one’s profession invariably comes up. It is only polite to ask someone what they do for a living. But my god do I dread that question, because I know exactly how the conversation will go. As soon as I’ve uttered the words “I’m a doctor” there’s no going back. Because then come the questions, different variations of the same thing.
“O, you work in a government hospital? Wow you must have seen some crazy things. Is it true that patients have to sleep on the corridor floors?”
“O, you’re a doctor? So, is it really like Grey’s Anatomy?”
And my personal favourite. “Wow, you’re really lucky to have got into medicine. My brother’s neighbour’s sister’s grandson got six As (six!) and didn’t get into medicine”.
It is at that point that I politely exit the conversation. I know no one is going to ask me what I think of the so-called Nkandla scandal, nor will they be interested as to whether I prefer Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. I am no longer Gen to this stranger I’m talking to, but rather a representative of the medical fraternity as a whole. And so it is that I become defined by my vocation.
I know it is not this person’s fault. They are simply curious. I just feel so frustrated that so much of who I am can be taken away by the ‘Dr’ that precedes my name. I’ve been tempted many times to lie, to pretend instead that I’m an Arctic explorer or a Hooters girl. But perhaps everyone feels that they are in fact defined by their choice of career.
So let me clear a few things up. Government hospitals do in fact have beds, and linen, and working toilets. Patients do not generally sleep on the floor. However they are overcrowded, not necessarily as pristine as you’d expect a hospital to be and most times understaffed. If you are genuinely interested take a drive to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto and see for yourself.
Grey’s Anatomy is a television show. In order for it to be successful it needs a cast of good looking actors, plenty of interesting cases and a whole lot of scandal. Working in a real life hospital is not like that.
I wasn’t just lucky to get into medicine, and neither were any of my colleagues. We all worked damn hard to get to where we are today, and luck had nothing to do with it.
Don’t get me wrong. Most days I’m really pleased with my choice of career. Most days I’m doing a job I love. But come Saturday afternoon at a braai when I’m introduced to someone new, I hate how medicine has stolen my identity.
Thanks for stopping by ❤