Dying in hospital

“Good morning, it’s Gregory the surgical SHO. You bleeped – how can I help?”

To contact a doctor overnight, you generally paged them, and I had a well-rehearsed patter when replying. The delivery was slightly too jaunty for 2AM on a Saturday morning, but there were worse images to project than eccentric enthusiasm.

“Hello, it’s Sabine the sister on ward eight. Can you review Mr. Amir? I think his breathing has gotten worse.”

My heart sank. I was on call, and although Mr. Amir wasn’t under my team when I was working normal shifts, I knew him by reputation. Metastatic colorectal carcinoma, resection was unsuccessful, leaving him with both a poor prognosis and a major operation to try and recover from. I had heard his team talking about him with little hope – the best case scenario would be he would recover from our forlorn attempts to help him and could go home with palliative treatment. The worst case would be that he would die in hospital. I knew he wasn’t doing well: recurrent chest infections, multiple courses of antibiotics – ineffective, poor wound healing, bedbound.

“Of course. Is there a purple form?” Continue reading

Saving the World, and Healing the Sick

When I applied to medical school, I had to write a personal statement: selling how exceptional my achievements were, what wonderful personal qualities I had, and my noble motivations for wanting to be a doctor. The last of these is the most embarrassing in retrospect:

I want to study medicine because of a desire I have to help others, and so the chance of spending a career doing something worthwhile I cannot resist. Of course, Doctors [sic] don’t have a monopoly on altruism, but I believe the attributes I have lend themselves best to medicine, as opposed to all the work I could do instead.

These “I like science and I want to help people” sentiments are common in budding doctors: when I recite this bit of my personal statement in a talk (generally as a self-flagellating opening gambit) I get a mix of laughs and groans of recognition – most wrote something similar. The impression I get from those who have to read this juvenalia is the “I like science and I want to help people” wannabe doctor is regarded akin to a child zooming around on their bike with stabilizers – an endearing work in progress. As they became seasoned in the blood sweat and tears of clinical practice, the vainglorious naivete will transform into a more grizzled, realistic, humane compassion. Less dying nobly, more living humbly; less JD, and more Perry Cox.

I still have a long way to go. Continue reading

Off duty

“Hi, single to the hospital, please.”

“You’re not ill, are ya?” The bus driver teased.

“No-no, I’m just training there.”

He let her go with a laugh and she walked up the aisle of the bus. The white tunic with blue trim poking out from under her coat made me guess student nurse. I was next in the queue; the driver spared me the same joke when I asked for the same ticket. Continue reading


I am now a doctor. The result that I passed my finals came on Friday, and the declaration happened Sunday afternoon. I start work as the most junior of junior doctors – a Foundation Year 1 – at the end of July in Milton Keynes. So now you know where to avoid if you get sick in August.

Traditionally (at least in the ‘States) students have a valedictory address at the end of their course, given by the top-ranked student of the year. This is a less auspicious farewell: I am a long way down any order of merit you care to name, and medical school has been a struggle. Things did get better in my final year, but the last six years haven’t been some Bildungsroman of how I transformed from spotty student to modern medical professional.

I’m still scared I’m not good enough. From what I haven’t done (at least, not on a non-plastic patient), from what I don’t know, to when I haven’t listened, there are fertile grounds for doubts. I find my mind keeps racing from these defects to hypothetical disaster. Although the medical profession is sane enough to carefully circumscribe the responsibility of junior doctors like me, this is still much more than I ever had as a student, and the excuses (“sorry, just a student, I’ll go and get a doctor”; “I can learn that later, I’m not qualified yet”) are gone. I feel like I am playing catch-up to the doctor I want to be, and I haven’t even started. Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment: Conclusion

I was another one of those who got no answer, despite my best efforts. If anything, my life was marginally less numinous than usual: nothing resembling spiritual longing, my life was slightly more fraught and disappointing than usual during the ‘prayer experiment’ (although nothing dramatic).

You can probably guess what I’m going to take from this based on my earlier posts: a negative answer is good (further) evidence for Atheism, as I’m pretty confident I behaved in a manner such that God (if he was really there) would get in touch. Yet he hasn’t. Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment, week 5: Should you hope there is a god?

We’ve seen so far that Mawson’s recommendation that atheists should pray is along the right lines: so long as you don’t think prayer is too likely to lead to self delusion, and the costs for the added information are smaller than the benefits, it seems a good idea to pray. It also seems that negative results are valuable: if Atheist prays and gets no answer, that is further evidence their atheism is correct. Here’s another question: should Atheist hope there really is a God after all?

Given what we’ve said above, it seems atheist should hope to be made aware of god if he exists. Believing the right thing about God’s existence is likely a good thing ‘either way’, and particularly good if God does exist. Yet whether atheist should hope God exists is slightly different: should atheist think that a world with god is somehow richer or more valuable than one without god – and, if so, is it worth hoping that is what really obtains, even if the evidence speaks against it? Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment: Week 4 – What if there’s no answer?

Nothing much happened this week. So, instead, lets talk about divine hiddenness:

It is implied by the rationale for doing the ‘prayer experiment’ that although a ‘positive result’ has value (“Oh, God exists after all!”), a negative result where nothing happens also is a worthwhile result, as it acts as confirmation for one’s atheism. How good is the evidence that no God gets in touch after 40 days for there being no god there? Continue reading

Atheist Prayer Experiment: Week 3 – why pray, anyway?

Personal update: I have been finding praying pretty difficult in the last week or so. It has been hard keep my mind on prayer rather than wandering elsewhere after the initial mental recitation. Similarly, I have generally failed to keep the regimented pattern I would like – not every evening, but scattered throughout the day.

I have noticed nothing. Life continues as before, and nothing in particular has suggested that God is smiling on me or getting in touch – if anything, I’ve been mildly more worldy and stressed than the usual. Time will tell.

My college chaplain has the misfortune of knowing me, and she recommended I give some other ‘ways’ of praying a go: lectio divinia, and turning up to evening prayer. Being kergmatically ‘up for anything’ I have tried the former this week, and will try the latter soon.

To pass the time, let’s talk about the philosophical rationale behind this ‘Atheist Prayer Experiment’.

Praying to stop being an Atheist?

Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment: Week 2 – Moral arguments

Nothing much to report. Like others, I am finding it hard to actually concentrate on praying rather than free-associating to something related, even in the space of three minutes. Nothing has happened in my life suggestive of divine signalling: no particular experiences, life has not taken a dramatic turn for the better, etc. etc. I will, naturally, persevere.

ASIDE: There seems a lot of talk about the moral argument, at least on the facebook group, but an unhappily small proportion of that links up to moral philosophy. Continue reading

Atheist prayer experiment: Week 1 – Introduction

I decided to be one of the seventy-ish atheists/agnostics/non-believers taking part in the atheist prayer experiment. I figured I’d give approximately weekly updates on how things develop over the next 40 days, maybe with some parenthetical remarks. For now, an introduction.

I used to be a Christian until the age of 14, although I wasn’t too hot on theology back then. Then I stopped. I’m not sure I can provide an easy account why: no traumatic life event, no road to damascus moment, and I don’t recognise the accounts offered for backsliding (love of sexual sin, daddy issues, in a strop with god) there either. My best guess was that I thought that belief in god became increasingly isolated from other beliefs and commitments I held, and eventually I came to the conclusion it was an intellectual bridge too far. I’ve been irreligious ever since.

Since then, I’ve gotten most of the way through medical skill, and cultivated (heaven help me) an interest in philosophy: you can find all the meritless scribblings around the blog. The other thing that exercises me is trying to save the world (and all the quixotic altruism that entails): I’m a member of Giving What We Can, and generally help out as community manager. I hope I will manage to follow through on my intend to give large amounts of my income to effective charity. Wish me luck. Continue reading