Part of what I love about internal medicine is tragedy. I've come to realize that I love flaws, injuries, cracks, holes in armor. It's like how everyone has a favorite Star Wars movie. Mine is The Empire Strikes Back. The movie ends with Luke's hand severed, Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and the Rebel Alliance fighting to stay alive. Everything is wrong; I like wrong.
And it's not that I want to fix things. I just want to know the tragedy of it all. I don't get any particular thrill fixing someone's blood pressure. I don't pat myself on the back over a glycohemoglobin of <7. I have a patient who's smart and attractive and in their 50's, and single. Whenever I see this patient, I think to myself, aren't you lonely? Isn't your life empty? What meaning do you find in life? I want to see their pain, their hurt.
I read the book Man's Search for Meaning recently, and in it he poses the scenario: if there was an ape being used to develop polio serum, and it is punctured again and again. It cannot comprehend the meaning of its suffering, but undeniably we can see a purpose to his pain.
"Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man's world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?"
So sometimes I truly enjoy seeing the suffering of others, and not for some cheap masochism, but because it is in suffering that people often reveal their raison d'être, their will to exist. Because anyone can tolerate good times, but it is the pain and injustice that one is willing to tolerate that defines purpose.