I am writing this article in deference to a friend who posed me this question when I met him at a wedding on last Sunday afternoon. He followed it up with ‘ein peu drole non, dimane ene docteur so nouvelle! Ki kone ou capave ecrire ene l’article lors la!’ As I was driving back home after the wedding, I thought ‘indeed why not ?’
Very well thank you, I ought to have replied but that was left out in the laughter that followed in the company of other friends present. And of course have been feeling better since having more time on my hands for the past several months, and not having a minute to feel bored. In fact, several friends – old and newer ones – in a similar situation to mine have told me that they find themselves as busy — some even busier! – now that they are retired than when they were working. May sound paradoxical, but this seems to be the case and well may it be so because there is no greater waste than to while away precious time in idleness.
Those who are grandparents find themselves taking care of little, littler and littlest ones, as well as some bigger ones, as their own children, parents of the ‘nuclear family’ generation, go off to work and drop their retinue at the elders’ place. And the latter are only too happy to dote on the progeny, although at times they may get tired with the running about after the often hyperactive bundles of joy. May grumble about it a little too – but it’s a happy grumble that never becomes a rumble. A retired nurse, now in his mid-seventies, told me a few years ago: ‘And I thought the days of looking after little kids were over and I and bonnefemme would take it easy in our retirement! Pas fini ça docteur mo dire ou! My daughter just gives her kid the morning milk and then leaves him at our place for the rest, the bath and so on until she comes and picks him up after work. And of course most days her mother sends her off with takeaway!’ And added philosophically, what to do this is life!
Quite. Others who do not have such responsibility for grandchildren find themselves in senior citizens’ groups and spend time in a more leisurely manner, such as coffee meets, card sessions or organised outings, or perhaps engage in some social work. Whatever be, the point is that one must plan ahead one’s retirement, otherwise one might find oneself as one American plastic surgeon did. He was a few weeks into his retirement and was fiddling about around lunchtime expecting his wife to call him any moment. When this did not happen he asked her, ‘what are we having for lunch dear?’ And the dear answered, ‘My dear, I married you for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch.’! That led him to write a series of articles in the American Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery about the necessity of planning one’s retirement. It’s over twenty-five years ago that I read them, when I did not have any notion of retirement, being then so far away from it.
But to come back to the question of my friend, the implication was that it was superfluous to ask doctors about their health, on the assumption that they must surely be top fit. I am sorry to disappoint him and others who think so, for doctors are very much like their fellow human beings, as careful or as careless about their health as everyone else, and as prone to the ailments that afflict humans. In fact, some categories of doctors are even more likely to suffer from certain conditions. Thus, according to studies that have been carried out, the rate of suicides among psychiatrists is higher as compared to the rest of the profession as well as to the general population.
In the US, a survey done several years ago among women resident doctors, who usually have crazy workloads, showed that the incidence of miscarriages was higher among them than in the population as a whole. Despite that, in most healthcare systems no definitive solution has been found about how to provide more flexible work schedules for female doctors, something that would indeed be highly desirable, especially when they are pregnant or are breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, as a general rule doctors do not always practise what they preach, subjecting themselves to the same risk factors that affect others, such as alcohol abuse, smoking, not doing enough physical exercise, overweight/obesity and so on. A proper study would have to be done at population level to find out whether doctors are role models as far as their health is concerned, but I have a hunch that the results would make my friend reel. On the whole, though, I think that following the US Surgeon-General’s Report on smoking and health that was released in the early 1960s, the incidence of smoking in the medical profession declined to a large extent.
But those were the days when cigarettes were being heavily advertised, and the macho image of the ‘Marlborough’ man widely admired. And doctors too were influenced. I know of a couple of colleagues who would have a cigarette dangling from their lips as they were seeing patients, which was most reprehensible to say the least. Alas, this pernicious habit has not altogether disappeared, and in these days of soaring tobacco-related diseases, I do trust that all smoker-doctors would lead by example because they are the ones who will subsequently have to handle these diseases in patients.
As far as obesity goes, I remember one of my professors of surgery who had such a big tummy that we used to joke about him, saying that he needed it to hold up the operation table in case there was a problem with the foot pedal that was used to raise the table! That was much before we had electrically or electronically operated tables and other such medical equipment. How times have changed!
Doctors don’t have a longer lifespan than others, and they also die from the same diseases that all mankind suffers from. They have no magic formula for better health. Whatever is known in this regard is shared in professional forums as well as forming part of an ongoing education for the general public, and as I wrote in last week’s article, prudent food consumption is an important aspect of this campaign. That doctors choose to ignore or to follow advice that their own profession promotes shows that they are, well, just as human as any other, with all the weaknesses and foibles, temptations and vulnerabilities.
So yes, it is quite legitimate to ask ki nouvelle docteur! And thanks, dear friend, for giving me an idea for my weekly appointment with my faithful readers, to whom also go my grateful thanks. I meet them – or rather, they identify themselves to me in so many different places that I have lost count of. They are certainly part of my raison-d’etre at this stage of my life, when we view the world with mellowed eyes. As it ought to be for all of us come the time.
* Published in print edition on 6 September 2013