Earning Nobility

     Human life is possibly the most profound, dignified, and the ultimate divine attainment that can be contained within our comprehension. To avoid much dispute, such an assumption of authority should remain within the confines of our conceivable boundaries.
     The entire existence, the structure and formation of all that extends around our milieu seem to cater to and nurture the human being as the ultimate beneficiary. Creation and or evolution perfected in the course of millennia of manipulations and refinements stand at the present threshold consummated as
     the species of homo-sapiens rule this planet earth. Through adjustments and accomplishments, they have crafted an enterprise assimilating nature’s resources to the limit. As a species we can claim with almost absolute certainty that we have been pushing our existence along lines that suit our desires, way beyond our needs. And we have grabbed the opportunity and have built up incredible bounties soaking up and integrating the accessible assets. Life has been changing constantly, claiming more comforts and materialistic improvements, stretching the limits of our wants and pushing our demands. Call it intelligent enthusiasm, curiosity, inquisitiveness or even greed, but we never seem to be adequately satisfied with what we have. Granting that progress poses new challenges that consequently impel us to come up with solutions, it is a never-ending glide with no end in sight.
     While accepting the quandary as a boon or a bane, yet an inevitable process of ‘civilization’, it may be fascinating to reflect on the precious gift, ‘our life as humans’. Once we accept it as a blessed endowment, the objective of such a grandiose legacy and its purpose should pose the ultimate query to our sense of right and wrong. Whether or how we make an earnest attempt to live up to that offering should be the most palpable purpose of human life. As we explore that basic rationale and begin appreciating what we have gained from the contribution of our predecessors, it becomes inevitable to feel justified and obligated to pitch in our share to help our fellow beings and our descendants. It is safe to assume that every individual at some point in their life would consider the very purpose for which we have been asked to wander into this place called earth, our home, and what we are making out of it. It may be irrelevant what and how others acknowledge our existence but the entity that is our ‘conscience’ remains the most stringent surveyor and auditor of our deeds. As much as we make an attempt to inspect and introspect into our performance with a desire to adjust it to the best of our ability, we must remain vindicated and worthy of this existence.
     Stretching our imagination along such lines, as we chose the vocation of being physicians, we are automatically endorsed with an opportunity to be worthy of our birth, as humans. Perhaps even biased to an extent, we could make a claim that basically everyone in our field of work stands a chance to give something back, more than we are given. Even granting that almost every profession directly or indirectly is involved in serving the need of others, medical service can be viewed as more forthright and immediate in our efforts. Ironically the nobility of what we set out to accomplish may not be perceived by many from such an angle, as a few may purposely approach it in ways that fit their diverse objectives. Nevertheless, the intentions irrespective of the outcomes always remain focused on lofty goals.
     Why did we select this line of profession? Perhaps that was one of the preferred options available at our times, to make a decent living, to earn reverence, for its prestige; or essentially to help sick and ailing people. Being a challenge to gain access to the limited availability of seats, it was a matter of excitement to be included. Irrespective of the reasons, the basic impulse to heal and to make the ill ones well must have been in our fundamental filaments of nature. And for that, we need to feel proud, and remain humbled.
     Phenomenal transformations have occurred in the past decades around the science, art and technology of practicing the profession and may have shifted the approach and outlook about Medicine, but the philosophy will always remain committed to its elementary aspiration. Our field has emerged into an assortment of modalities based on the progress and expanded understanding of its intricacies. Advance in technology has contributed a great deal in the never-ending evolution towards perfection, expanding the scope and sphere of every specialty. From the very few options that were available to the graduating physicians just a few decades ago, the choices have become numerous, each one with expanding horizons. The inevitable limitation, if one chooses to see it from a different perspective, is that although the ultimate healing authority of our profession has exploded with time, the intimate physician patient relationship that existed a generation ago has quietly yet categorically faded away from many lines of our expertise. We realize that fact to be an inevitable prize to pay in exchange for the improved overall outcome. Equally disturbing reality is the vanishing control of the caregiver in making decisions, which are being collectively dictated by a variety of authorities with vested interests, not necessarily focused on the welfare of the patients.
     In a significantly changing environment, it is imperative that our profession and its leaders maintain a steadfast commitment that our ultimate motivation should be ‘healing’ and the essential philosophy of training medical students should be with that purpose. Beyond their scholastic competence and scores, the aptitude of the aspiring candidates must be given importance, that compassion and empathy be considered as fundamental requisites for them to qualify. As they begin their tenure, such a philosophy needs to be established and emphasized through their training. It should also be the moral chore for physicians in charge to be empathetic to the less fortunate among us and exercise our influence where it matters.
     As science and technology are making giant strides in redefining the scope of modern medicine, there has been a steady acceptance and utility of the Alternate Medicine in the management of a variety of illnesses. Granting that it is generous and credible to give due respect to time-tested methods of healing prevalent for centuries in many parts of the old world, the purpose and allowance of such methods here, generate a certain amount of wariness. It will be most desirable to delve into the depths of such wisdom with respect and genuine eagerness before we consider incorporating such information in to our methodology. As the fundamentals of the philosophies are based on diverse factors, blending many styles may pose incongruity in the overall benefit for the patients.
     It may be germane at this point to reminisce about the time-honored traditions of our ancient Ayurveda of Atharva Veda, the illustrious wisdom of Ashtanga Hridaya and contributions by Charaka and Susruta, pioneers in the fields of ancient Indian Medicine. Even though our present approach and understanding of the field may be from a totally different perspective, scrutinizing medicine in such elaborate, logical details long before the expediency of present-day paraphernalia should be viewed with respect and accommodation. If we can comprehend our physical body as an amalgam of elements, a microcosmic unit contained within the macrocosmic expanse, we may be able to fathom the enormity of the concept and the limitation of our ability to grasp its totality. It is profoundly mentioned that our physical existence is part of the cosmic energy but the understanding of it is realized only through the medium of conscious energy. As the Upanishad proclaims, “Isa Vasam Idam Sarvam”, everything rests in the ‘Ultimate Consciousness’; how we will ever know, what is next to be conquered!
     As much as we can feel proud of the massive gains of modern medicine through scientific discoveries and technologic advances, it is an ongoing process of increasing knowledge overwhelming the old ones. While we exalt in our achievements, we should remain humbled from the reality that many of our once firm beliefs continue to stand corrected as new discoveries prove them wrong. We need to be complacent that our present knowledge may be tumbled and modified by new revelations in the foreseeable future. The ‘leading edge’ of our current claim of expertise at any given point has to give room for fresh findings as the ‘lead’ keeps moving to new ‘edges’. Our ability is also constrained by the fact that every individual, our patient, is not just a piece of statistics in the actuarial tabulations and remains very much beyond our speculation as to how precisely they are going to fall in our calculated options, and where exactly they are positioned in the spectrum of variations. The difference is that ‘life’ is way beyond the sum total of the anatomic, physiologic, biochemical, psychological and even spiritual planes, and an entity that will ever remain an enigma ahead of our imaginations.
     A gracious gesture of gratitude for having benefited from the gift of human life would be for us to earn its worth by engaging in noble efforts. As we reach the end point in life, it will be fulfilling to proclaim that ‘I have done the best I could’.
     It is never too late to aim in that direction. And it is comforting to do
so.                     (December 08, 2010)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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