The consequences of our actions

January 20 2018

I’m Zoë, I’m a medical student in the Netherlands and within one year I can call myself a doctor.

I had the chance to do three months of my internships in Tanzania, which has changed my view on medicine. I’m not going to talk about the suffering, the children dying or how helpless I’ve felt when there was nothing we could do, knowing it would have been an easy fix in Europe. But believe me, it was all there.

When the biggest part of your day consist of learning about medicine, you forget how little you knew when you started, and how little other people know. Multiply this with traditions, believe and traditional healers, and you have the situation of most of my patients in Tanzania. Children that drink unpasteurized will most likely get infected with tuberculosis. Mothers with HIV will pass it on to their children when they breastfeed. People who visit a traditional healer for something simple instead of going to the hospital can die of the herbs given by the traditional healer. These are no exceptions, this was happening every day in the small hospital where I was doing my internships.

When I went back to the Netherlands, I was happy I would be able to work with better informed patients. I don’t know why I thought that would be the case. Before I went to Africa I already had two year experience in the hospital, but It was like I forgot (how do I put this without sounding disrespectful) how stupid people can be.

A lot of diseases are caused by things we can control ourselves. Everybody knows that. Smoking causes lung cancer, drinking alcohol causes liver failure and being overweight causes heart disease (believe me, I could go on for a while).

If everybody knows it, then why do we do this? I’m not asking this question to test you and I can’t give you the answer, because I too, am guilty of some of these things. Maybe it’s because we can’t exactly see the consequences of our actions, because there too far in the future and quite unimaginable.

So what would we need to change our behaviours and potentially save our loved ones the grief. For a young child, a parent is half their world. The other half is their other parent. Can you imagine what would happen to your (future) child when you’re gone? The only ones who can are children who have lost a parent, or a parent of a child who have lost their mom or dad.

Patients who tried to stop smoking tell me, with guilt in their eyes, that they’ve failed, like they had something to prove to me. I will always tell them that I don’t care (which is a lie), but their three year old son does.

It’s funny (in a dark way) that a lot of people diagnosed with lung cancer stop smoking. Like a child that has to fall really hard before he never leaves the house with untied shoes again. But in case of the child it actually makes sense to tie your shoes after you have fallen, it doesn’t matter when you stop smoking or not when you already have metastasized lung cancer.

I hope you can get something out of my story, and who knows, maybe I saved a live. If you didn’t, that’s okay. I don’t care about you, I don’t even know you.

Except that I do care.

Zoë Mens
The Netherlands

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