Tuesday, 01 September 2009 15:00

KNOWLEDGE ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH by Philip A. Salem, M.D.

Every morning, I close my eyes and embrace the Lord and thank him. I thank him everyday, and I will continue to thank him everyday until my last day. I thank him for everything because if it were not for him, I would not be here.  In particular, I thank him for the opportunity he has given me to treat cancer patients.

And, every morning, when I drive to my office in the city of Houston, I ask myself three questions: Is there any work greater than that of treating people threatened by death from cancer? The answer is no.  Is there any work which is more noble than saving the life of a human? The answer is no. Is there any work I love more than mine?  The answer is no. At this moment I am filled with joy and I am soothed with warm inner peace,  

When I arrive in my clinic, and I see my patients, I feel I am as close to God as possible. My clinic is my church. Here I pray, during the day, all day. My prayer is in sharing with my patients their pain and their suffering, and also in sharing with them the joy of hope and the glory of resurrection of life. Here in my clinic I feel the awe of responsibility; the responsibility of life and death. Also, here I feel the awe of nobility and sacredness. A cancer doctor’s work and his relationship with his patient are sacred. To achieve sacredness, the doctor should rise above himself.  He should forget who he is and what his interests are and should only work for others not for himself. To achieve sacredness, the “I” should melt away and become “you”. Giving life is God’s work, and although God alone is capable of giving life, He has bestowed upon man the human mind. This mind is the ultimate miracle of his creation. Without it, there is no being. God has created the mind for man to acquire knowledge. Knowledge is a must to control disease and alleviate suffering and pain. Knowledge is what defines medicine and its greatness. Without it there is no medicine. In medicine there is nothing outside knowledge, and in my 41 years of experience as a cancer physician, researcher and educator, I have never seen one patient who was cured without scientific knowledge, and I have never seen a single miracle beyond the miracle of the human mind.

This is all about knowledge, but the secret that many people, patients and doctors may not know is that knowledge alone is not enough. To cure the cancer patient a lot more than knowledge is needed. The four most important things you need are: love, hope, courage and perseverance.

My motto has always been, and will forever remain, the doctor who does not love his patient, cannot cure him. The patient, in particular the cancer patient, needs a doctor who loves him. Love is the power that bonds the patient and the doctor in an eternal embrace. Without love and compassion, the doctor will never know the human behind the disease, and will not be able to shepherd the patient through his journey with his disease and its treatment.  “Love never fails” 

Also, hope, I believe is essential for the conquest of disease. I do not think that a doctor has the right to strip the patient completely of hope, even though he may believe that he knows the truth, the whole truth. Khalil Gibran said “who saw the truth coming down from heaven?”  Also I say, what might be true today may not be true tomorrow. Science and knowledge grow and expand everyday. Recently, I had lunch with a woman whom I treated 35 years ago. When I started her treatment, I did not believe she had any chance for cure, but during her treatment new drugs emerged and she eventually achieved a cure.

Also, the road to cure needs a lot of courage and perseverance. It is not only the patient who should have courage and perseverance but also the doctor. Many patients lose the courage and perseverance needed to continue treatment because the doctor gives up too early. The road to cure is long and brutal. There are many roadblocks and many big holes. There are countless failures and multiple frustrations. Should the doctor or the patient retreat, every time there is a failure or the patient slides into a hole, they will never reach the end of the road. To reach the end of the road you have to accept failure.  You have to accept sliding into the hole and persevering to get out of it and to continue forward with determination. This scenario may happen many times before you reach the end, and achieve cure. Only those who have courage and perseverance reach the end of the road. Only those who go to war and fight it with all their power win the war.

Giving in all its forms is great, but the highest of all of them is giving a human back his life.  The life of the doctor is the lives of others, the lives of his patients.  There is a great verse in the Quran, "The one who cures one human, cures all mankind".  

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