House (and Perowne), physicians, magicians, gods?
Saturday, a novel by Ian McEwan, goes through a day in the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. Medicine is depicted majestically, with the power to cure and diagnose patients efficiently. Within the first ten pages, we see Perowne perform a root canal on a patient: “…all done n fifteen minutes, three years’ misery, of sharp, stabbing pain, ended” (pg. 6). In a way, Perowne is a magician. He can control and change the expected turn of events, without the audience (patient) having any understanding of how. Medicine is awe-inspiring, an art form requiring precision, skill, and sacrifice.
With the sacrifice of time and intellectual drain, you can obtain the perfect life as a physician. Perowne has is life completely put together. He exercises, eats healthily (tuna and cucumber sandwiches and mineral water for lunch? Who does that?), is in love with his wife, and needs to rely on no one. Even his family is perfect: they are all extremely successful in their endeavors, are wealthy, and live in spectacular homes. This control Perowne has on his life though, is shattered with the home invasion. In that situation, he loses all power and is rendered helpless, but even then, he maintains some sort of power, with his knowledge of medicine and ability to bluff his way to regain control of the situation with Baxter.
Where does the power of the physician come from in Saturday? I believe that it comes from the access of medical knowledge that is given only to the select few with the resources to attend medical school and become a part of the medical system. In the 1700s, surgeons were nothing more than barbers, maintaining at most, a lower-middle class status. With the AAMA and the organization of medical schools, today’s system was formed, with standards for accreditation and the honor instilled in the medical profession today. Partially, the reason physicians maintain such an honorable role in society today, is due to the lack of access to medical knowledge by the general public.
This divide in access to medical knowledge is lessening though, with the internet and websites like
http://www.webmd.com/, which from my experiences shadowing, physicians even use on occasion. Even with increasing knowledge to medical practices, people not trained in medicine will never have an overall grasp of the implication of symptoms. Medicine in complex, requiring experience in hospital settings, understanding of how different parts of the body interact, as well as a foundation in the sciences. I don’t see the role of the physician diminishing anytime soon, and people like House and Perowne will maintain their status as gods, determining whether one lives or dies.