August 08, 2015

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The greatest medical mistake of my life was failing to recognize that a woman was slowly bleeding to death (she did, in fact, bleed to death). I had started on duty on Friday morning and worked through till late Monday afternoon, with only two or three periods of not more than an hour or two of sleep. In other contexts it would have been regarded as a form of torture rather than of employment. I can still conjure in my memory the extraordinary feeling of cerebral leadenness, as if my head were going to detach itself under its own weight from the rest of my body. Any residual empathy for the sufferings of others had long since disappeared from my mind; I was like those ragged men in the desert that one sometimes sees in cartoons, crawling across the sand toward a mirage of water. But in my case the mirage was of a bed”€”all I could think of was sleep. Even now, I cannot feel sincere guilt over the woman’s death, or that it was really and only my fault.

At least the punishing schedule seemed to have been imposed by a shortage of doctors and a superfluity of patients (whether things could have been better arranged, I do not know). But strangely enough I am glad, at this long distance in time, that I experienced that terrible schedule, though I am glad for a most unworthy reason. When anyone complains to me of the hours that he works, I can say to him, thanks to my experience, “€œAh, you don”€™t know what hard work and long hours really are.”€ How gratifying it is to have suffered more than others!


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