It’s a line that I have heard so many times as a way to end a discussion.
It’s also the line used to get additional privileges, like being excused from traffic violations, being placed in front of a long line, and being relieved from all suspicions on any crime or unpleasant incident.
I have heard it being spoken by males who wanted to impress a woman they have just met, as if being a physician is an absolute guarantee of faithfulness, joy, and love. (Note: Sometimes the line works if the woman is gullible or shallow.)
I remember what one of my favourite professors in medical school said to us during one of our classes – Doctors are beings placed in a plane above ordinary mortals. I know some people who took it to their heads and demanded the bigger share of everything because they’re doctors. I also know others who took it by the heart too, but interpreted it the way Spider-man interpreted his dying uncle’s advice: that with great powers come great responsibilities.
For me, I came to interpret what my old professor said a;this: that being a doctor gives a person enormous responsibility that it does not seem human at all. Doctors are given the Knowledge and Wisdom to do something that not any person – no matter their statuses in life may be – could do at all. In their hands, a person’s life is directly placed, and with that life, a future could be shaped or destroyed.
Teachers would rear children to become good and responsible people. Engineers would build something that may a thousand years. Lawyers are people who have the burden of spreading and keeping justice.
Doctors, on the other hand, have different functions. Psychiatrists could guide a person to get himself together and put his life on track. Paediatricians take care of children from the moment they get out of their mother’s womb until they turn into young men or women (and some keep their paediatricians as their primary physicians despite already being adults). Surgeons take out any body part that makes a person sick or correct any lesion in a person’s body. Obstetricians and gynaecologists help a woman deliver her child safely as well as ensure that the bearers of the next generation of human beings are healthy. Internists balance the function of the body through medications and sound advice. All of these are done to give people a second (or third, or fourth) chance in life – to correct their mistakes, to appreciate life even better, or maybe just to spend a longer and better time with their loved ones.
To be honest, I don’t think a lot of physicians have come to understand that.
My line of work is not in the clinical or hospital setting anymore, but still, it’s a doctor’s work. It involves evaluating another physician’s work and providing as much support as he or she needed. I have come across so many physicians who would cause me to raise my eyebrows with the way they would manage their patients. Of course, they are more the exceptions to the rule (thank goodness), but since I get to handle medical-legal cases, I get to face these exceptions more often than not.
I have met physicians who would insist on continuing a certain treatment on a patient despite the patient’s symptoms getting worse with it. I have met physicians who would refer patients with simple neck pain to other providers to undergo rather questionable treatment modalities only to return to their offices five to six months later still with neck pain but that that time already with associated weakness and numbness radiating to one or two arms.
In my recent employment, I get to identify physicians who would provide diagnoses like “Pain,” “Crying,” and “Fever” along with a bill amounting to several thousand pesos for a gamut of treatment modalities done in the emergency room.
To justify their medical judgment, they would bring up that familiar line. “Duktor ako.”
In restaurants and buffets, I have come across people who would deliberately cut the line, and when the other people confront them, they would reply, “Duktor ako.”
I also personally know people who, at the opening of any conversation, would never fail that they would introduce themselves as “Duktor ako.”
To these I would reply, “Hu u,” like that ultra-polite response some people would give whenever an unregistered number sends them a message in their mobile phones and they really don’t have the time to play around.
It is not uncommon for people to criticize government officials about their excessive and frequently unnecessary spending of the tax money. In Metro Manila, it’s not uncommon to see light posts, waiting sheds, and other public structures designed with the incumbent mayor’s name or initials – all stylized in symbols to make it prettier and almost necessary for the structure (not really). In streamers and ambulances, the initials or abbreviations of the names of programs and services are forcibly fitted to form the serving politician’s name. We get annoyed whenever we see public executives on TV taking advantage of disasters and urgent events to do photo opportunities and get some exposure to make the public see them “in action.” Prior to the time of the current president, it was not infrequent to hear police and/or ambulance sirens blaring across the streets, only to find them escorting a car with a single-numbered plate travel at past two in the morning (and no, congress sessions rarely finish at that time of the night).
It’s actually what we have come to know as the “Wangwang Mentality” – that mindset that given that position, these people would come to feel that they are indeed beings placed above ordinary mortals – that they could not be bothered, inconvenienced, or – to put it rather bluntly – made to feel like another human being because they are God’s gift to humanity.
As much as I feel that some politicians have lost touch with the reality about who they really are and what they are supposed to be doing, I have also come to feel the same way about some physicians. The “Wangwang Mentality” has simply been altered with the “Duktor Ako Mentality” as if it were the ultimate answer to the questions that are raised.
When I was a child, I have always had this sense of reverence for physicians that is equalled only by my reverence for priests, pastors, and imams. More than any person who I would encounter, it is they who I would look up to and say to myself, “I want to be like him/her.” Maybe it’s the white coat. Maybe it’s the selfless dedication to make their profession obsolete (as I don’t know any other profession that works to make themselves unnecessary to other people after they have solved their problems). Maybe it’s the ability to keep smiling and talk respectfully despite the long hours they spend in the hospitals – and to be honest, the small salary that they receive.
Ah, but those were the good ones! Maybe I was blessed to have been exposed to my parent’s doctor-friends and physicians in private hospitals who, I would later learn, were actually trained to keep smiling and to stay polite because they are being paid by the patients and their families to smile and be polite (I learned about it when I myself practiced in a large hospital that is more of a corporation rather than a hospice). Except on one occasion, I did not get to experience rude physicians when I was younger.
Now that I’m a physician myself (but admittedly still penniless), I would deliberately seek consultations with doctors who are reputably mean and rude. Sometimes it’s a way for me to evaluate their performances and to verify patient complaints, and sometimes I just enjoy the pain. I never volunteer the information that I am a physician, and I believe that my Academy Award-winning performances are able to convince them that I belong in a plane below them. It works every time – they would tell me what I need to do after they examine me and would not even ask for my name. They would then act surprised and change the tone of their voice and manner of speaking after they find out that I am a physician too. Suddenly I become only half a plane below them (because still, I am seeking their sage-like wisdom to treat me), but it’s a considerable promotion for me.
To be quite brutal, I do enjoy getting into arguments with people who use the line “Duktor ako” to put themselves above the argument. I would reply to them, “So what? I’m a doctor too, and our profession does not make us automatically correct in every argument.” Sometimes, I would fantasize being able to finally say “I’m a doctor too, and a lawyer as well, so f#%$ you,” just to spite them and put them back to reality. I thought saying to them “f#%$ you” is the part of any argument that is way much sweeter than “Duktor ako.” Then again, “f#%$ you” is that part of any argument that is way much sweeter than any of its point.
As I said, I subscribe to what my old professor taught me back in my medical school days, but the state of being in a plane above ordinary mortals is more about the responsibilities rather than the privileges. The privileges would be there, I believe, once we demonstrate that we are above ordinary mortals. The key is always Humility, as beings above ordinary mortals already know that they are above the pettiness of labels and titles, because they already are assured of who they are and what they could do. They do not have to whine and scream like little kids who had been told that they could not have everything that they want in the flick of a wrist.
Personally, I always let doctors go first in line in restaurants and canteens inside hospitals. That’s a way for me to let them feel that I revere them and I understand that they are there for a break from their demanding schedules, but I would never let them cut the line in groceries, department stores, or anywhere else just because they are doctors.
Of course, that argument places me at risk of not receiving any medical attention because some smart doctors would reply “you go to the hospital or clinic for me to take care of you, and not here” once they see me clutching my chest and fighting for a breath while in a public, non-hospital or clinic place.
Still, I would rather be dead than be taken care of physicians with no common sense or stupid pride. To them I would still say with a dying breath, “Hu u” or better yet, “F#%$ you,” to end the argument.