MELISSA’S LETTERS: Dear Doctors: When, if ever, did your job lose its sparkle?

Dear Doctors,

SAT’s are finally over! . . . until May.

But, for now, we have a break. No more practice tests. No more vocabulary or practice essay writing or reading boring passages.

However, although many of the passages can put you to sleep in the middle of taking the SAT, I did run into a few passages I found interesting while practicing the reading comprehension section.

One was especially intriguing.

The passage is adapted from a memoir from Mark Twain, who had worked for several years as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before becoming a writer. It’s a beautifully written passage that talks about him sailing a steamboat on the river.

Mark Twain was always awed by the river’s beauty, but after he became a steamboat pilot, his perspective on the river changed: “I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too.”

Although once he became a steamboat pilot Twain loved spending time on the river and had gained knowledge of the river, he had lost his sense of wonder and, with it, a big part of what he had loved so greatly about the river in the first place.

“No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.”

He goes on to explain that it is for this reason that he feels sorry for doctors.

“Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a ‘break’ that ripples above some deadly disease? Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?”

This is the part of the passage that intrigues me the most.

My dad’s a doctor, and watching him over the years has led me to hold a similar view to Mark Twain; being a doctor sucks. However, I hold this view for a different reason than Twain describes in the passage, and it surprised me that we had both reached the same conclusion about doctors through completely different reasoning.

I’ve seen how stressful being responsible for other’s lives can be, which is why I pity doctors. Twain pitties doctors for a completely new reason I had never thought about.

At first, I completely disagreed with Twain. I believe knowledge is power. I admire scientists and educated people, and if anyone should be able to really be awed by human beings, it would be scientists like doctors, biologists and psychologists who truly understand the complexity of what makes us who we are.

Yet what the author had written made sense as well.

In biology class a few days later, I was reminded of the passage when Dr. Whited was talking about the reproductive system of plants, and a student began snickering. Dr. Whited stared back at him with a straight face, completely unamused. Because of Dr. Whited’s scientific knowledge and understanding, she had lost the ability to be amused at words like “penis” or “vagina” much like the author of the passage had lost the awe and wonder of the river.

Of course, yet again I disagreed with the author. Obviously, Dr. Whited’s lack of ability to find plant reproductive systems funny isn’t really sad. I see it as a positive thing, a sign of maturity. Yet I see how this could be expanded.

As we continue to make scientific discoveries, maybe one day we will understand the current mysteries of the brain and know exactly how humans function. There is a good chance that this knowledge will disprove many of our Western ideas of free will, soul, and true love.

Can you really love someone when you know exactly how they work, when you know exactly what makes you “love” them? When love and all our emotions are finally broken down into a series of chemical reactions in the brain, it will be impossible to view people the way we do today.

Of course, knowledge will not change the fact that humans are incredibly complex and amazing creatures. In fact, learning more and more about humans and our world seems to just continue to prove how complicated and amazing everything is.

This is why I originally disagreed with the author. I know when I look through one of my mom’s microscopes or sit in science class, I am completely amazed. However I do have to concede that a big part of why science can be so fascinating is because most of the time when we learn more about things, at the same time we also realize how little we know about humans and the world.

So in the end I suppose it works both ways. You can both gain and lose wonder and awe by gaining knowledge.

As far as whether it sucks to be a doctor for that reason, I don’t know. It seems a little far-fetched to pity doctors. I feel like they must be able to separate their job from the rest of their life, to some extent. Yet there is no doubt that learning so much about people would change one’s perspective.

In the end I think it can be for both the better and the worse.


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