“The question for me is how to live well inside our short, breakable lives.”Sam Guglani, oncologist
There is this idea that doctors live healthier lives because of what we know and encounter through medicine – but I’m not sure this is true, or even what the measure of it is. As an oncologist, it might for me mean not smoking or drinking too much, whatever stands statistically to lessen my risk of developing a malignancy.
But any change for me, in how I live, comes more from a particular sort of encounter with medicine – from meeting life’s fragility and our mortality every day. I witness others who go from being well – over a short period of time, sometimes just weeks – to being very unwell, their lives changing sharply and utterly.
We see this every day in oncology, so I’m surprised we’re not wiser. The question for me, presented so clearly with something as obvious but as hidden as death, is how to live well inside our short, breakable lives. Because it seems that, while illuminated by death, doctors don’t necessarily do that. We might work hard to care for others, but we’re as capable of resentments, anger, greediness and hubris as anyone else, very possibly more.
For me, some days, suddenly and without warning, leaving a bedside or a conversation, I’ll be gripped by the fact of this shared mortality, and it will affect me, however momentarily. Less by spurring either a cautious or hedonistic lifestyle, less carpe diem, less even so much about me. More that I’ll be left softened by the world, moved maybe by the light on the way home, or by those I love or ought to love, noticing distances and feeling compelled to bridge them. Driven to live by what we owe one another in the time that we have, feeling deference and awe and connection, or to at least die trying?