Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why We Do What We Do

I will never forget the look on that woman's face. At first, the words did nothing to change her expression, but as the words burrowed into her and took hold in her mind like a parasite, her face transformed. I will never forget that look. The despair and reality and weight of it just crashed over her like a wave as the doctor told her more and more. "You have a choice to make. You can die in a few years or you can die in 20 or 30 years. You can continue like this until you die or you can watch your kids grow up." She started crying. I felt like crying. It is a terrible thing to face your mistakes and to know that your life could be destroyed because of your carelessness. This woman never realized the danger she was putting herself in by not getting her diabetes medication and neglecting regular visits to a physician. She had no idea that she was cutting her life so short, that she was taking away a mother from her daughters. That realization crushed her, and it happened in front of my eyes. I will never forget the look on that woman's face.

There is a reason for everything we do in this world. Everyone wants to feel fulfilled and to find satisfaction in life. It is human nature. For some people, they find meaning through hedonism, seeking every carnal and visceral pleasure available and nothing more. For others, they find meaning through religion, dedicating their lives to prayer and spreading faith to the otherwise faithless. Some people find meaning through learning, never stopping the flow of information into their minds and never taking a break from their pursuit of knowledge. None of these are better than others; they each have their own merits and offer different people unique ways of achieving happiness.

For health care providers, there may be many of these at play at once. Some doctors love learning and practice medicine for that reason. Other doctors love teaching and share their knowledge for that reason. Still others love interacting with people and helping them overcome health-based hardships. We are here studying global health because we love all these things. My peers and I want to learn, we want to share the things we learn someday, and we want to share those things with people who can benefit from it.

We got our first taste of that experience in Nicaragua last week. The program we were with not only involved learning about symptoms associated with diseases and basic diagnosis of common diseases, but it also involved transmitting that information to a characteristically underserved populations in rural communities. By holding clinics for nearly 350 Nicaraguans with health problems over the course of three days, we were able to find the reasons for their suffering and to give them the resources and knowledge they need to treat it now and prevent it in the future. We showed that woman that her diabetes was killing her, but we also gave her the opportunity to fix it. In reality, we could not have done this without the doctors by our side; however, we were still able to spend time talking to real people with real problems and try to give them some comfort in their lives.

It would be foolish to think that medicine will be this simple if we become doctors. It would be naïve to think that everything will always be about helping people and nothing else. Being a doctor is still one of the hardest professions to get into and one of the hardest professions in which to live. And yet, there are still doctors out there. My experience in Nicaragua made me realize why that is. It is good to help people. It is good to have the skills and expertise to help people. If a person can stay true to that central idea, then any obstacle can be overcome, and the world can be a better place.

David Monroe
Duke University '16
Trinity School of Arts and Sciences
(714) 724-0640

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