He wasn’t doing enough and he knew it. To live was hard—not impossible, but hard—knowing how little he was doing. However well he did the indispensable work for which he was appreciated and renowned, there were others who did it better, for less, with fewer expectations, in places he wouldn’t practice, for patients who needed it more. He felt pampered and overpaid and didn’t know what to do about it, short of refusing his salary. To save, he thought, was to hoard; worse yet was to invest—robbing from the poor to finance the rich and at a profit, no less. Yet he couldn’t squander, couldn’t donate without scrupulous study, couldn’t so much as overpay without worrying about the unintended consequences of superfluous funds chasing too little product, and so he accumulated wealth, one might say, inadvertently, by making more than he spent and not losing any. At every opportunity he did what was needed and more, but still he felt selfish and so lived a life of service and deprivations, inconsequential love affairs, unfulfilled yearnings and deep resentments. He was forever repenting small indulgences and mourning the missed opportunities of time lost and irretrievable. Not that the world required of him anything in particular, provided he was timely, did no harm, removed the proper organs and left neat stitches. But the larger obligation, he felt, extended to everyone, to do not just the best one could but the most, short of refusing his salary. All things undone were a cheat on the world. Others did less, he knew, far less than he, but he wasn’t content to be among the less reprehensible. Over time, he turned a decent man into a bore, until the patients he did everything to please couldn’t bear to be with him.

Copyright © December 14, 2006 David Hodges


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