On Doctors, Doctors’ Strikes and the Harsh Reality

A friend recently observed that I had “mellowed” or cooled down on the issue of doctors and their striking. He wondered if my mellowing was a result of the fact that I am dating a doctor. He remarked that since the issue is close to me, I now understood the position of doctors.

I didn’t say much then, perhaps because I hadn’t really thought about it… or perhaps because of my new “no-unnecessary-arguments” policy. I did think about it though, and I now realize why I have mellowed on the issue of doctors’ strikes.

Growing up, I placed doctors, or perhaps the medical profession on a very high pedestal. To my young mind, doctors were extremely brilliant, extremely talented individuals who sacrificed everything to save lives. Doctors were walking encyclopedias who could miraculously know what you were thinking at any moment in time. Looking back, my first doctor, Dr. Bennett had a lot to do with this impression, because he was amazing. Even though he was a bit on the short side, anytime he entered a room, he filled it with his presence. And I, who would cry and cry before taking the sweet Multivite syrup, would gulp down a cup of Chloroquine syrup if he gave it to me. He was very kind as well, I never heard him shout at anyone, and boy, was he smart! It felt like he knew everything. Did I mention he was cute?

Anyway, when it was time to choose a secondary school and a course, I naturally gravitated towards Visual Arts because I love to draw. However my teachers warned me sternly not to consider it “because a smart girl like you should be a doctor”. I didn’t argue, watching ER with Clooney-the-Swooney gave me another idea of just how amazing doctors could be. I chose Science. However, In final year of secondary school, I was one of the few Science students that didn’t want to go to Medical School. I thought I wasn’t nice enough to be a doctor and I knew I didn’t care enough about people to pull it off. Dr. Bennett was my standard, and honestly, I thought a lot of the other girls who were gunning to be doctors were not nice enough to be doctors either.

A lot of these feelings were enforced when I got to the university and realized just how different things in the “real world” were from the purple-tinted world in my head. I was reading a lot of er errrrm socialist and activist literature and I was on fire! I was tired of complaining and I wanted to change the world (still do).

I didn’t understand Doctors’ strikes because in my mind, I thought they were “bigger” than the rest of us, that they were special, and that they were all decided to become doctors so they could help people. The problem is, I was projecting the image of what I wanted them to be and it didn’t fit. This upset me and I kept reacting to them, their demands and strikes. I was disappointed, disillusioned, and frankly, hurt.

Good news is I’m no longer disappointed, because after 6 years in the university, I realize that very few people get into the programs they really want to be in. I realize that even some people doing courses they wanted to do in the beginning change their minds along the way and yet cannot quit because of their families and what society would think of them. I realize that a lot of parents force their kids into courses, and these students are usually very miserable. Above all, I realize that perhaps, the reason some people decide (or are forced) to do certain courses is because of the perception that these courses lead to well-paying jobs.

I know that many medical students enter university with the highest SSSCE or WASSCE grades, and were usually among the best and brightest students in their secondary schools. Perhaps,  they expected to be on top of the world….

Unfortunately, it seems like between 10 -15 (?) years after school, in Ghana at least, the people that look like they are on top of the world (in terms of wealth) are rarely doctors. It’s the contractors, politicians, pastors, businesswomen and men…etc.

So imagine growing up, always in the top 5 of your class… intelligent and always being praised by your teachers and peers… and now being faced with the reality that… that dummkopf who was always in the bottomt 5 of your class.. who’s probably an MP or Pastor or Contractor now… can afford to spend your monthly salary on one pair of shoes.

I would be disappointed too, so I understand.

Revised Version of the Hippocratic Oath. Azonto Style.

This is the original, modern version, which we must admit, does not apply to our situation in Ghana.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death.

If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness
of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related
problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who
seek my help.

By popular request, here’s the Azonto remix.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, depending on my financial situation because ahbe you know, life is hard in Ghana, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk when it suits me,
and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick who can afford it , all
measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to
medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug again, for those who can afford it, or when the government pays me because life is hard in Ghana oh.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know, unless the world or my friends and family really want to know . Most especially must I
tread with care in matters of life and death.

If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness
of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God except when threatening the government with a strike.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related
problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure. I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.