I’ve experienced it time and time again.
You go onto the Internet in search of some real answers to your quandaries. You want to know if this or that fish is too high in mercury. You want to read success stories of vegan diets. You want to read about why we’re made to eat meat or why we’re not. You want to get some advice on treating headaches naturally—or you want some advice on when it’s time to go get an MRI for those headaches. You want to know if other people feel the baby kick in that way and at that time or don’t feel the baby kick at all yet. And what do you get?
Why don’t you just ask your doctor about it?
And I know, I know. I know there are people out there whose primary or even, only, doctor they ever consult is Yahoo answers. And I know these people often put themselves in danger with such lack of true, researched advice and knowledge and care. But some of us don’t just consult Yahoo answers (and most likely, go to more trustworthy websites, books, and other resources.) Some of us are on the Internet because we do have doctors, perhaps many doctors whose advice we’ve heard over and over again (much of it helpful and even life-saving, perhaps.) But we have learned through experience that no doctor is omniscient, (after all, no person is omniscient.) No diet is perfect, no hospital flawless and immaculately clean. The task of taking care of these broken bodies is no science. It is muddy. It is unclear. It is complicated. And nobody has all the answers.
But still, as if back in the day of the small town doctor, back in the day when we had virtually no personal access to health information (and a day when there was certainly much more illness and premature death to go around,) we persist in this belief of the omniscient doctor. Because this belief gives us a sense of security. It’s easier if we think that our doctor will always know best. It’s easier not to read the possible side effects on the back of that prescription. It’s easier not to even know what the prescription is at all. Because once we know, we begin to delve into the messy nature of medicine and health. And that scares us. It scares us that something could go wrong. It scares us that our doctor or our therapist or our homeopathic guru could be wrong. And this is because a part of us wants to believe that illness and death can be completely, unequivocally prevented and stopped. And if we trust that our doctor or our diet or an herb will always save us, then we can persist in such a belief (and also blame him/it, instead of ourselves, if something does go wrong.)
The truth is illness and death cannot be completely, unequivocally prevented and stopped. We must accept that something can and eventually, will, go wrong. What makes a good doctor so honorable is that he knows this, but tries anyway. He fights what may be a losing battle, but fights relentlessly. And why? Because his humanity demands that he do so. It is one of our most basic human drives. Perhaps it is because deep within us we find death to be unjust. We sense that we were not made for death. And in such a spirit of courage at the face of an unconquerable and unjust enemy, the doctor heals and mends that which will, eventually, break again. The doctor is a champion of human compassion. But we deny him this role when we make him into a god. We deny him the ability to fight the battle with all its risks and unknowns, when we pretend there are no risks or unknowns. We deny him the ability to be a hero when we pretend he is not really fighting a battle. This is unfair to the doctor. We should not expect him to be a god, because he is not a god! Sure, he has whatever number of years of training in whatever field he trained in. But if you spend enough time in doctors’ offices you learn, for sure, that often, such training only gets you so far. How dare we expect them to know everything? How dare we expect them to be immune to mistakes? They are human beings just like us. And that is what makes them heroes. We must, if we are to do justice to the doctor and to ourselves, take responsibility for our own bodies and our own health. We must recognize that in many ways, we too are doctors. We are doctors of ourselves, of our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends—even our pets. And we cannot take such a responsibility lightly. If we are to do justice to ourselves and to those we love, we must take up the fight, and recognize it for what it is. Once we do this, we may in turn find a wealth of beauty and fulfillment in such a fight, even when it seems like we cannot win. When we fight for our humanity, and take up our individual responsibility for it—when we face death in the face in all our helplessness, as do many doctors day after day, we understand more fully what it means to be human. And in finding such an understanding, in fulfilling a need within us, we end up nourishing and healing the spirit—the part of ourselves that death can’t touch anyway.