Although I wanted to go into medicine, one of my greatest fears was seeing patients go through mental and physical agony. I longed to nurture ill patients back to health, but resented seeing them in pain. Coincidentally, I stumbled across the book, The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu. After reading the book, I am now undoubted in my current career pursuits.
As I read this book, I learned about the deforming condition, known as Proteus Syndrome, that afflicted Joseph Merrick. Merrick's disease created repulsive overgrowths throughout his body. Having a body with grotesque deformities, Merrick was shunned by most members of the society. In the 1800's, Merrick was considered a despised creature who was forced to suffer and accept the humiliation and revulsion of his tormenters. He was entirely alone in the world; yet, his courage allowed him to surmount all of his handicaps. Merrick elected to give himself the dignity that any human deserves, even when society thought otherwise. Even though people debased and insulted him, he still loved humanity. Only Dr. Treves was able to look past Merrick's deformed body and see the intelligent and sensitive man that he really was.
One scene in the book portrayed how Merrick was exploited in a London exposition. Merrick, huddled in a corner, was ordered around like a dog, and humiliated as the spectators gawked at his deformity. As I read, I could feel the sting as the crowd spat out insults. I could only imagine how strong Merrick had to be in order to endure the torment that he received. Dr. Treves, a spectator in the exhibition, originally was appalled with Merrick's condition; however, he refused to look at Merrick as a monster. Treves, a humane man, invited Merrick to stay in his hospital to ensure that Merrick had a stable and secure home. Treves' reaction had a profound effect on me after I learned that doctors should look past a patient's outside appearance. Just as I did, Treves originally was repulsed by Merrick's condition, but eventually, he separated himself from society's standards by focusing on and treating Merrick's condition.
Once I read The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, I was forever changed. I realized that I should suffer in a way that the patient suffers. What I mean is that if a patient has an illness, I should feel obligated to help the patient recover. Similar to Dr. Treves' approach, I believe that the patient's condition should not determine whether a patient is treated; rather, the patient's condition should be the main focus. This revelation in the book helped to illustrate my desire to advocate for public health and for patients with life changing diseases. What I will really be doing is helping the Merricks around us, and that motivates me even more.