The Harshest Critic

We all know who the harshest critic is. And no, it’s not your mom or your dad. It’s you. Expectations are useful as a driving force as you strive to achieve the goals of your life, but when they take a turn to the dark side, they can be your worst nightmare.

Growing up, I wanted to be a musician (to quote my dad in an Egyptian accent, “over my dead body”), a physician, an athlete (I stopped growing = game over), and for a few of my formative years, a ninja.


It’s a good thing the whole ninja thing worked out.


I was never in a “gifted and talented” class in elementary school.  Early on, I was in academic classes simply because that’s where I initially was placed. After my parents realized I could do better, I moved up to advanced. It would have been easy to coast through like that, but when middle school reared its awesome head around (it wasn’t ugly for me), I decided to force myself into honors level classes.  I wasn’t ready for it, and it was one heck of a rude awakening. But it forced me to put in the time and effort to succeed.

The struggle to achieve more than whatever false paradigm set in your mind must be the springboard to do more. We don’t have the time to settle. We only have the time to push through to the next challenge.

This week, I read a post on Facebook talking about how it is better to be a Computer Programmer than a Medical Doctor in 2014. Sure, that might be true for some people based on certain parameters. But the concept of it all really irked me. Who said you have fit into others’ model of success? Who said that being “X professional” is the only thing you can be?

Be whoever you want to be, even if that means you are a Dentist-Entrepreneur-Gardener-Ninja. We define who we are and pave the road to our own success.

Yes, you are your harshest critic. Let it be the driving force that propels you forward.


Losing Control

The hardest patients to take care of are the ones my age. When a young 30 something guy with Cystic Fibrosis comes for surgery because he can’t breathe right, it is like a Chuck Norris kick to the gut. They say when Chuck Norris kicks you in the gut; your stomach apologizes to him in advance.

I digress.

I find it difficult because taking care of people my own age with significant medical problems makes me really introspect.  Youth is a time of misplaced invincibility. We think nothing can harm us, that the only thing we need to think about is increasing our wealth, starting a family, and going to the gym so you look good enough to start a family.

After taking care of many patients my age who are suffering from an ailment, I have learned one main lesson. Let them have some control.

Recently, I was taking care of a guy with Cystic Fibrosis. It is a genetic disease where difficulty to breathe is the often the most significant problem, leading to frequent lung infections, prolonged hospital stays, and multiple organ dysfunction. He came to have a procedure done to repair a hole in his stomach. He has had the procedure done multiple times. Each one was unsuccessful for one reason or another.

He was furious to find out that the outcome this time was also the same. At a time where you should be at your strongest, the feeling of helplessness can bring out real frustration. And that was exactly what he was feeling.

A mentor of mine told me as an intern that with these kinds of patients, you have to realize that they’re not trying to be difficult. They aren’t really angry with you. They’ve lost whatever control they have in their lives, and their anger is a mechanism to seize the moment.

So when he decided to yell at me after the procedure, I was ready to listen.

Sometimes doctors need to just shut up and listen.

I sat down next to him, heard him out, allowed him to vent his frustrations, and waited for him to be done. I even tried to wait a few moments after he was done to make sure. He goes, “Why aren’t you talking dude, stop being awkward.”

And we laughed.  It was a chance for him to express himself and process openly his concerns. His life has has been spiraling out of control.

In a lot of situations, be it in medicine or relationships, we’re not really listening to hear what the person in front of us is trying to say. We’re waiting for them to be done so we can say what we wanted to say 15 minutes ago. All of this while hoping not to forget our thoughts while they are talking.

You know its true.

It is imperative to listen, absorb, and reflect some positivity in these situations. This extends to all forms of relationships. Hear what they have to say, do what you can to help the situation. Their words to you, though in anger, may be far more compelling and beneficial to you than your treatment of their illness.

Give them some control.

(originally posted on Dr. Zaafran’s blog there for more original content)