Cowards can’t be DOCTORS!

Akanksha Mahajan

3rd year MBBS student at Government Medical College, Amritsar

It was just another day at the UCLA medical centre, LA. As the clock struck 8 in the morning, the hospital walls echoed with the cries of a 10 year old, who was supposed to get a blood test. At around half past 8, a few nurses and a junior resident were seen rushing in panic. The kid must have escaped and was now hiding in some corner of that hospital which now appeared nothing less than a maze. The staff that was responsible for that kid ran towards every nook and corner as if their lives depended on finding him, they kept running as if no one except that kid existed in the hospital.

While they were trying to play “tag”, there was a celebration going on in the cafeteria to honor Dr. Alex, one of the oncologists at UCLA who had recently won the “Bristol-Myers Squibb Award” for the breakthrough she had made in the onco-sciences. As Alex stepped forward to cut her cake, she noticed something strange. There was a 10 year old hiding under one of the tables. She went over to him, extended her hands forward to hold him. The boy kept on resisting like before. Rest of the staff in the cafeteria tried to help her but she refused and decided to take the boy to his room by herself. She gently whispered in the boy’s ears, “I am not taking you to that house of horrors against your will but I have something else to show you.” The kid stopped resisting and followed her. She held his hand and took him to his room and made him sit comfortably and assured him that she won’t be taking a single drop of his blood against his will. However, she took out a needle and made the boy have a closer look at it. He held it with those shaky fingers. She told him, “You’re so much bigger than this, how can you make it hurt you?” The kid shouted and said, “no, it’s so sharp and it must be painful. I hate you all. You keep hurting the patients with these, it’s so simple to put it in someone else’s body rather than your own and say such words.” Alex smiled and took that needle from him and pricked her finger. “See, it doesn’t hurt at all”, she said. “Maybe you are just a coward”, she chuckled while she added. The kid raised his voice and said, “no, I am not a coward, if a girl can do it, so can I.” And thus, he got the blood test without a single cry holding Alex’s hand.

While this was going on, Dr. Claire, the dean, was standing outside that room and kept staring astonishingly at Alex. The entire incident reminded her of the interview she and Alex had the other day with a journalist from The Times because of the honor she had brought to her and UCLA. During the interview, when Alex was asked how she would like to describe herself. And Alex answered, “I am a coward, that’s all I can say about myself.” The journalist added, “yeah, like all medical practitioners, you must also be scared to lose your patients but that fear doesn’t make you a coward. You’re just being humble.” To which Alex added, “my fears were way more than that and that always made me nothing less than a coward. I would love to explain how. Because today I really want the world to know that a coward can also be a successful medical practitioner. You see, my story started when I appeared for the National Medical Entrance exam which is known as NEET (UG) in my country, India. I had a panic attack in the middle of the exam and I couldn’t get a seat.

I dropped a year and that fear doubled but at the end, the fear frustrated me and I decided to just go with the flow. And I don’t know whether my diligence paid off or I was lucky but I got a seat finally and that too in a medical college where I wanted to go.

However, my family never really wanted me to be a medical practitioner from the very start because I had always been a very sensitive and a cowardly person. Although my family was confident about me from an academic aspect, that’s not all that it takes to succeed in the medical profession, right? They kept telling me that COWARDS CAN’T BE DOCTORS! I could never bear to listen to their advice because I loved medicine so much that I didn’t lend much thought to my cowardice while I was preparing for the entrance exam. But then when I had passed, that’s when it all started messing with my head.

Although I succeeded in entering the medical college, it wasn’t the end but maybe the start of a scary ride. I was also sort of a pessimist, instead of being excited for my day 1 at med school, I was anxious if I was good enough to be there. And I got to face the worst of my fears on day 1 itself when we were taken to the hematology lab. We were told that we were supposed to be pricking our own fingers to perform the various experiments. The very sight of the needle was making me nervous, nauseous and breathless. We were supposed to be performing the first experiment after a week. I went home and cried in front of my parents saying how I would do it. My father brought me a lancet to help me do it with ease. He also brought around hundreds of needles to accompany the lancet and a bottle of spirit so that I could overcome my fear before entering the lab at college because he believed that it was important to face the fears to get rid of them and besides, my family didn’t want me to fall down unconscious at my college and hurt myself physically or emotionally. Dad ordered me to take the lancet and prick my finger there and then. I was trembling the moment I held it so much that it slipped between my fingers. My dad was so annoyed and he yelled because he didn’t want me to act so cowardly, he took the lancet and pricked my finger and as expected, I fainted. The moment I gained consciousness, my dad was yelling at me telling me to quit the college because I didn’t have what was needed to be there. I couldn’t sleep that night. I wept all night. Next morning, I decided to do it again. I took that spirit bottle and lancet to my room without telling my parents about it. With those trembling hands, I pricked my finger, and oh god, I felt like I could die but then I don’t know what happened to me, I couldn’t stop myself from pricking another finger and then another and then another. It was really hard, I was breathless but didn’t feel nauseous or dizzy at all. I repeated it all the next day too. The first prick used to be hard but the rest weren’t apparently. I used to prick both my hands, I guess, 4-5 pricks in all, everyday, until a week and then that much awaited day arrived when I was supposed to do it at college. My dad over-worries about me. He told me that even if I think I have overcome it, I shouldn’t do it yet. During my hematology practical, I was nervous because what if dad was right, what if I wasn’t ready yet. But I saw something unexpected, my colleagues didn’t want to do it either, it made me feel a bit at ease and I pricked my finger and woahhh, it wasn’t painful at all. I was literally on cloud nine and guess what, I gave a few drops of my blood to others too, haha! But it was still not the end. I still felt scared of cutting open the cadavers, watching those post-mortems and was it too early to think about living patients? I had severe trypanophobia.

Although I had overcome a part of it by getting rid of that needle-phobia, I guess, I still had a long way to go. Whenever I used to go see my doctor as a kid, I couldn’t bear to watch someone getting a blood test or maybe a shot or something. Because maybe I am too sensitive, I used to feel that pain in my own body and it used to make me feel dizzy. That’s what made me scared of watching cadavers and post-mortems. However, surprisingly, cadavers in the anatomy hall seemed so unreal, I decided to think of it as a dummy and dissect it to learn instead of attaching all those emotions to it and thus, it didn’t seem such a big deal to be scared of. But those post-mortems, what about them? They made such sturdy looking people nauseous.  When I got to watch the first one, it was an old lady who died in an accident. As I looked at her face, I was in tears, I didn’t want her to be cut at all, she was dead but she looked so helpless. But gradually, when her body was dissected layer by layer, I didn’t feel anything at all and I started feeling like a future medical practitioner, who was just standing there to learn. And then, during internships, when I finally encountered alive patients, that feeling of helping them out was much greater than fearing the various procedures and those fears started seeming like nothing. But at the end of the day, I always keep feeling so under-confident but I feel that’s okay because that’s what motivates me to keep working harder to be better. I guess a coward can be a doctor and succeed as long as that coward wants to be a doctor.

“Dr. Alex, you are indeed an inspiration for all the aspiring medicos out there”, the journalist enthusiastically said. Dr. Claire stood up from her seat and started applauding because she had never met someone like Alex ever before and told Alex, “You proved that courage doesn’t lie in being fearless but having the zeal to face those fears. I am so proud to know you.”

While Dr. Claire watched Dr.Alex laughing with that kid from the window, she smiled while she murmured to herself, “I guess cowards can be better doctors.”

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