The Ugly Side of Being a Doctor


I said something last week to a blogger friend. I was quick and brief and thought it was helpful. Well a caring friend of hers felt I was too harsh. She says:

I went over to visit Dr. Cason’s site and while I see a ton of information informing parents how to be a good, normal parent, I fail to see the part where she addresses anything that even comes close to what so many of us live with everyday.


It’s true. I try to be light. Life a bummer and sick kids are tough. I don’t dwell. But here’s the thing. I never forget. It might seem like I do, so I’ll let you know what I ruminate over in the quiet of the night.

Here’s the ugly side of being a doctor. The side I don’t talk about.

Warning some not so positive stuff about to unfold.

  1. I never wanted to be a doctor.
  2. I wanted to be a writer.
  3. But here I am.
  4. The buck stops with me.
  5. I’m in a war zone here.
  6. I’m not in the war.
  7. I just watch it.
  8. And try to stop it.
  9. There too many dead children on my mind and in my heart.
  10. You can delude yourself into thinking you are helping someone.
  11. That what you do actually matters.
  12. But the truth is.
  13. People live and die and life goes on.
  14. I was baptized in Medical School.
  15. I pray because it’s the only way I can stop crying.
  16. I go for runs and pray.
  17. I pray for the two month old dropped on her head.
  18. She herniated before my eyes.
  19. I pray for the  two year old who drowned in a neighbors pool.
  20. He came in on the same shift as the baby.
  21. We celebrated his 3rd birthday.
  22. And then disconnected his ventilator.
  23. His mother thanked me for crying. She said it was nice to see someone who cared.
  24. I pray for the baby found dead next to his sleeping mother.
  25. I stood poised with ET Tube as the ambulance approached.
  26. He was gone too long.
  27. I pray for the abandoned comatose girl in the PICU.
  28. I  gave her a sponge bath, combed her hair and put in little braids.
  29. The nurses wrote me up.
  30. It seems doctors aren’t usually that nice.
  31. I’ve cath’d babies, tapped them, intubated them and helped harvest their organs.
  32. I’ve watched a quivering heart be placed in a cooler and flown away.
  33. To help another life.
  34. I’ve called codes, ran codes and run to codes.
  35. All holding my pregnant belly as Gabby jostled around.
  36. I pray for the seven year that died within minutes of my exam.
  37. She was talking.
  38. I got her a glass of water.
  39. She was stable.
  40. She smiled.
  41. “I see colors” were her last words.
  42. I pray for the baby with the gray tummy.
  43. Perfect little peanut until I rolled him over.
  44. I pray for the 22 week old preemie.
  45. The parents begged me to save her.
  46. But I’m not God and I can’t grow lungs.
  47. I’ve struggled with my team to save a newborn
  48. When it was apparent that I COULD NOT DO ANYTHING
  49. I turned and RAN. Down the hall.
  50. That baby needed his mommy to hold him as he died.
  51. That Mommy needed to hold her baby as she said goodbye.
  52. I pray he found peace.
  53. And she too.
  54. I pray for the four year old I diagnosed with cancer.
  55. As his father clung to me he cried
  56. Please help us.
  57. I pray for the 5 year old immigrant who was rescued by his grandmother in TJ.
  58. Left alone for days then stolen by drug lords. Repetitively.
  59. He cried when I examined him.
  60. Afterwards I held him.
  61. Shhh Shhh Shhh I cooed . He felt like my sweet kids.
  62. He wouldn’t let me go.
  63. So I carried him from room to room.
  64. I pray for the 14 year old boy who cried in my office just last week.
  65. I knelt down and said I understood.
  66. But watching the war is not the same as being in the war.
  67. I’m in the war with my son.
  68. I pray for him repeatedly.
  69. I prayed when they scoped him, poked him, prodded and took his blood.
  70. I prayed when I heard those words- Immunodeficiency.
  71. Hmmm how interesting I might say any other time. But not this time.
  72. It’s not a book or a case
  73. It’s my son.
  74. I feel the desperation.
  75. He’s coughing now.
  76. I am a doctor.
  77. I owe a quarter of a million dollars in medical school loans.
  78. I fear my debt will outlive me.

So maybe I can’t come close to what other feel but I try. I know that as a doctor, I’m on the better end. I can’t even imagine the pain of those parents. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care or can’t relate. This is not a “job” for me. It’s my life. I’ve resuscitated babies in a Walmart and a pizza joint. I’ve run to  multiple car accidents and performed the Heimlich in restaurants. I answer  questions daily for readers, friends, neighbors and strangers. I keep a otoscope charged in my kitchen. I make house calls and advise friends. I have two websites. I make no money but dream of funding humanitarian missions. Because I have time and medical knowledge, I hope to use it well.

The ugly side of medicine it what it is. I didn’t even come close to all the other terrible crushing memories. Some are fading some not.  Don’t worry. I’m not crying right now.

  1. I’m happy.
  2. I like what I do.
  3. I can sleep at night.
  4. I took an oath and
  5. This is my calling.


129 thoughts on “The Ugly Side of Being a Doctor

  1. Dr. Cason,

    I appreciate your hard efforts to continue doctoring. Most people see doctors are miracle workers, but of course, doctors are like humans who make mistakes. They can’t “grow lungs” out of nothing. As a high school volunteer in my local hospital, I occasionally see these graphic scenes occurring in the ER. I can only say that I thank you for your dedication to caring patients.

    And thanks for sharing the article. Reminds me how important doctors are again.

    Thank you so much!

  2. It is hard! I’m on my third year of med school, I know I still got a long way to go, to get there, where you are…. but It’s our job and in our minds will be the thought that we did the imposible to save a life 🙂 we’re not the owners, and if a life got to be at the end, even if it’s just starting… we will be there, supporting families, getting experiences, that makes us stronger…

  3. I am going in to nursing. I am/was moved by this list/poem/realness. I don’t know you but I am prod of you, for what …..for being real and honest.
    Thank You so much I love this so much!
    I am going to print this!

    Stay Strong
    Paris Jones

  4. And despite everything you mentioned, I believe it is still my calling as well.

  5. You’re right, Sir. It’s not a job, it’s our life. It’s ours. My teacher said to parents of us (his students, of course), “Thank you for believing us to teach your children. And sincerely, to let your children studying and struggling not for you, but for people.” It was hard to think at first that I have to study so hard not fot my self, nor my parents, but for people. But I’m really sure, it’s my calling, it’s something that I loved to.

  6. You’re right, Sir. It’s not a job, it’s our life. It’s ours. My teacher said to parents of us (his students, of course), “Thank you for believing us to teach your children. And sincerely, to let your children studying and struggling not for you, but for people.” It was hard to think at first that I have to study so hard not for my self, nor my parents, but for people. But I’m really sure, it’s my calling, it’s something that I loved to.

  7. Thankyou for such a poignant review of your daily life!
    I dont know what to say but there lies there tears in my eyes from reading your post!
    After so many years in a job I did love but not any more I have decided to change careers and medicine was the one I thought about. Only because I wanted to make a difference in the world. So far you have inspired me to.
    Being a Doctor is probably one of the hardest things to be. I am not that young but young enough to contemplate this career as it is not just a job it is your life, and all that comes with it. I hope I can also live up to such a calling!
    Peace to you and all that comes with it!!

  8. I was weeping as I read your post. Thinking of all the children, things you went through.
    Thank you for sharing and Thank you for living.

    I wish you many blessings.

  9. That was a really moving piece, Dr. C. Thanks for sharing it. After reading this, I’m curious what you would say to me – a guy in his early twenties, just finishing off a degree with honors and gearing up to write the MCAT and apply to med school like so many others.

    See, the thing is, I too want to write. I know I will – just as you do – the question is in what capacity. I want to write books, both fiction and non, with the cheekiness of Kurt Vonnegut and the literary mastery of Nabokov. I want to write philosophical treatises. I want to write movies and goofy little poems. But I don’t just want to write, I want to travel. I want to do neuroscience research and put people in giant spinning magnets to see what parts of their brain turn yellow and green when I ask them about God or dogs. I want to become a behavioural economist and help society understand the many ways in which humans are NOT rational, are IRrational, and full of the quirks of our sordid evolutionary past, and I want to help point out the philosophical ramifications of this (the rational consumer is dead and buried). I want my band to put in some serious practice time and take this show on the road. I want to effect positive social change through debates and idea exchange, ultimately influencing policy choices. I want to get a law degree. I want to learn French and Japanese. I want to do all of these things, and, well, I want to be a doctor too.

    Applying to med school has always been this thing I’ve been working towards, that I know in my heart of hearts to be an excellent career choice for so many reasons, and that I know would bring my life much fulfillment. But I’ve never been certain about it. I have this haunting feeling in the top part of my left leg that I might be taking the plunge into something that won’t make me happy. Because I truly do have a desire to do some of these other things, too. While the list is a little grandiose and over exaggerated for entertainment’s sake, many of these things are important to me, and there’s even one or two I might be able to do.

    So I guess my question is – is it possible that at some point in the post-med school future that I could have a life outside of medicine enough to pursue some of these childish and borderline comedic passions of mine? Or is medicine so all-encompassing that I don’t have a hope in hell? I’ve been pushing forward with the med plan because I’ve convinced myself I can find a way to do both – that is, have my cake and stethoscope too – but am I dreaming? Well, I’m definitely dreaming, but just how deeply is what I can never tell. I’d love any insight you (or other docs on this blog) might have.

    Keep writing. It’s the heartiest soul soup, and it will keep those long days at bay.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this with us. It made me rethink my wish of becoming a doctor, but I still decided I wanted to become a doctor.

  12. I dont think this person that wrote the comment was particularly harsh, just stating their observation. The fact that you get to live out of the warzone and bake cookies, gives you a certain carelessness. Now if you were blogging to stop the war I would feel more compassion towards you of course. This person is expressing their feelings. I loved your post while I couldnt help feel for the person expressing their feelings about the war. No one knows whats going on over there….I can read someone elses site to learn how to make a macrame necklace.

  13. Thank you so much for writing this beautiful and inspiring literary snap shot into your life. In utter desperation I typed in google “can I stop being a doctor” feeling a little ridiculous for expecting any encouragement to come from such a search, and then I came across your post. I am in the Navy doing my General Medical Officer tour which is when you are sent to practice medicine within your capability after only doing an internship. After that you then may choose to go back and finish your residency. The only problem is my internship was in OBGYN but I was sent to a Family Medicine clinic ( that doesn’t see pregnant women). I have had little more than medical school training and been asked to perform primary care of the entire family- including children. Needless to say I have been completely overwhelmed. Working very long hours, as it took me longer to do things while I tried to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. I’ve had my 4 yr old and my infant at work as late as midnight trying to finish notes and attempt to make sure I had properly cared for my patients. My husband could not find a job in this isolated duty station and so had to move away. And I have been alone with my patients, my children, my ambitions and my fears. Everyday I want to quit except I can’t, partially because I have a military commitment but mostly because I believe Jesus called me to this. And maybe it’s not supposed to always be fun. Maybe the struggle not only rescues another person but saves you from what you otherwise would have become. I pray for my patients too. I did last night. Sometimes I feel like I can’t possibly be both a mother and a doctor well as my children eat McDonalds while I return phone calls at 7 and 8 at night. ( daycare closes at 6:00 so this interrupts my work time) But then I see how my experiences as a mother help me relate to my patients better. And am encouraged when my 4 yr old despite it all says I want to be a doctor like you. After spending a year at this clinic I’ve decided I’d much rather do residency in pediatrics than OBGYN.
    And yet I too never wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a writer. But here I am and maybe it’s for a reason.

  14. I have always had a deep respect for doctors because of the kind of things that you’ve written here. Very well written piece. I will keep you in my prayers from now on.

  15. I am a 3rd year medical student and I found your website on stumbleupon. I never expected to find such a truthful sincere testimony of what is like being a pediatrician. I am still not leaning towards any specific specialty but I’ve always been curious on how I would react to pediatrics as I am not very used to being around kids. They usually like me, it’s funny, but I haven’t had many children in my closer family.
    I loved reading your testimony. I found that pediatrics is such a meaningful specialty as dealing with sick kids is a totally different world in medicine.
    I will remind myself of your words whenever I am close to a peds unit in my medical student life, that is for sure.
    I sincerely hope you can continue to find your way thought the toughness of life, family and pediatrics.
    From a Portuguese medical student

  16. Like Joana, I’m a medical student too and I came across your post via stumbleupon. I can relate to you Dr. Cason. I never wanted to be a doctor and I also wanted to be a writer but here I am in med school. And I agree, only prayers can get me through the toughest times especially when I doubt why I’m here haha. I don’t think I’d go for pedia though, children make you feel warm inside, sick children are just heartbreaking. But I’m happy to see that despite medicine not being your first love, it has been your life. I’m happy for you. Hang in there. 🙂

  17. Dr Cason,
    Thanks for this honest version of what being a doctor is like. I am an anesthesiologist, early in my practice. Some of these experiences illustrate exactly why I couldn’t do peds. During residency, after seeing a child die due to an airway anomaly in a case, I decided not to become a pediatric anesthesiologist, all with my first child in my belly. I’ve seen traumas, codes, death and the stress of my job is downright scary sometimes. And, like you, this was not my primary profession of choice. I’m a musician and still play music on occasion with hopes to do more soon. Stories like yours help me know I’m not alone in some of the feelings and emotions that come with the profession. Thank you for being strong, doing your job and being there for the babies. My own child needed NICU care, went apneic in my arms, and that was the most helpless moment of my life. As a NICU survivor myself, I thank God for people like you.

  18. Dear Dr. Carson,

    Thank you for this beautiful and honest piece. I’m filling out my secondary applications right now and have been so stressed applying and re-applying that I frequently ask myself why I’m doing this. Your story reminds me of why it is so important for there to be caring doctors. It’s not easy or glamorous work, but there is something intensely beautiful about witnessing the delicate balance between life and death each day, and knowing that even when all you can do is not enough, you had a significant role in someone else’s life.

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing this piece of you. I’ll think back on this when that voice tells me to give up. I wish you and your family all the best.

  19. This is the most beautiful article I have ever read. Thank you for sharing. I have been debating on whether to aim for medical school and after reading this I undoubtedly will.

  20. Wow Dr. Cason just read the begining of your heart touching stories made me tear up . Getting through your series of events as being a doctor has given me all of the to right reasons to be a doctor.

  21. Dr. Carson,

    I’ve read both of your books, the transcript of your prayer speech breakfast, and now this inspiring article. I am enrolled in a medical school and am moved and inspired by you and your work. I hope to find the righteous path and stick to it as fortuitously as you have. God bless and, if you ever decide to run for president, you will have my vote and ardent support.

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