"The Choice": A story about what could have been.
December 5 2000 at 2:06 PM

The Choice

"Doctor, we are doing a headcount. Are you coming to the departmental Year-End party?"
"No. I've sworn off parties twenty years ago. Alcohol also."
"You mean you haven't been to a party or had a drink in twenty years?"
"What do you do in your spare time?"
"I mean, what do you do for fun?"
"I do not have fun."
"Do you at least listen to music?"
"Watch television?"
"A waste of time. I watched an hour of television per week in the years between age thirteen and eighteen. Afterwards, I watched none at all."
"Don't you ever go on dates or... "
"No. I've sworn off women."
"Since when?"
"Since when I was eighteen."
"But then..."
"I am a virgin, yes."
"I am sorry..."
"Don't be. You are new here. There are things you don't know. That is not a cause for embarrassment."
"I really didn't mean to butt into your personal affairs..."
"It's quite all right. Now you know that there is no need to extend party invitations to me. I swore off every kind of enjoyment long ago."
"So we won't see you at the New Year's party either?"
"So who will you be spending your time with during the Holidays?"
"Myself. I have papers to write."
"Don't you ever rest?"
"No. I forswore holidays and vacations."
"Pardon me, sir, but isn't that a sort of bleak way to live?"
"I don't expect my life to be rosy. I trade in people's lives. What would I be if I built a comfortable living for myself on the miseries of their maladies? I have decided long ago to devote myself to this job and think of nothing else."
"I am not an exceptionally intelligent man. But, as in the tortoise and the hare, if I persist without rest, if I devoted every minute of my waking life to work and study. I could come out ahead. I could be a great doctor."
"That's admirable sir, but why would you want to become a great doctor if it would only make your life so bleak?"
"To save people."
"That's all?"
"That's all."
"You know doctor, I have never come across a man like you. Most surgeons are shagging nurses left and right. They wear Armani suits and drive expensive cars. They seem to think they deserve everything they get."
"They are heretics. They have abandoned the Code."
"What code is that?"
"The Code of Self Sacrifice. The Code of Messhi Houkou."
"Messhi Houkou. Well, that sounds heavy. Don't you stick out like a crooked nail if you insist on living like that? Not going to parties and such?"
"It took a while for the professor to understand my position. I used to tell him that it was only temporary. A brief sprint in my career when I concentrated on nothing but work. When he showed understanding, I took the liberty of extending the sprint. No one would defy my lifestyle today. I have gained too much respect. I can continue to be as stoic as I please. Otherwise, if anyone makes a minor mistake in the operating room, I will take the opportunity to retaliate by accusing them of living an Epicurean life that is eroding the quality of their medical expertise at the peril of their patients."
"Well, you certainly are in a position to tell them that for sure. But, pardon me for saying this but I sense a sort of hostility in your words."
"You are too young to know. But the Code has always been with us. You just don't hear about it much today."
"That's what I was wondering. You said you started this when you were eighteen. That sounds like a young age to start living by an antiquated... er, sorry... an exceptional philosophy as yours. Where did you get the influence?"
"Well, as much as I hate to admit it, it was the influence of my father."
"The famous chairman. Is he as stoic as you?"
"No. He drinks, smokes and he has had sex obviously."
"So how did he influence you?"
"By his words."
"What could he possibly say to..."
"It's a long story. He was always dissatisfied with my performance as his son. He constantly lectured me about the need for self sacrifice and the divorce from all joys. He never left off his constant drilling about what a piece of waste I was and always would be. He would not stop about how worthless my joys were in the greater schemes of the world. So I took his words to its logical conclusion. I forswore everything. Including sex."
"So you became celibate to show it to your father?"
"Initially. After a while it became an end in itself. I always knew that I was one of few people who could pull it off. Eventually it became a source of pride."
"Not to mention a weapon against your less high-minded co-workers."
"You might be surprised that the math bares itself out. Over the years, I have gained a lead against my peers like compound interest on a small deposit. I have now written more academic papers and performed more operations than anyone else in the department."
"Yes, but at what cost?"
"Just my life. What loss is it to the world at large? One man has turned himself into a machine to serve humanity. The world has gained a good doctor. It is a good bargain if you take a larger perspective."
"I don't know. If everyone did what you did..."
"Everyone is not doing it, are they? I am the only sacrifice. And the net gain for society is obvious."
"Well, I'm sorry if I don't have the intelligence to make a good counter argument, but I cannot believe that it is a gain for society at large. I feel somehow that something very important is being lost."
"The loss is just the personal enjoyment, or 'fun' you might say, of a person who would have become a loser for having it."
"Then, just for my curiosity, sir, can you tell me what kind of a loser you would have become if you hadn't made your decision to live by the Code?"
"This very principle is an all-or-nothing deal. Self-esteem and celibacy are both all-or-nothing concepts. And I am very much an all-or nothing sort of person. So I suppose I would have flunked school many times before graduating. If the system allowed it I would have dropped out, but as the situation stands I would have had no other choice than to graduate belatedly to be a second-rate doctor. I might have become a womanizer with a frivolous alias and wasted time watching movies and writing unpublishable nonsense. I would have become knowledgeable about a wide range of inconsequential pedantism. I would be spending every penny I earned on women and clothes. I would have a reputation and would be disliked by many people. I would have accomplished nothing notable at my age other than, perhaps, raise a couple of snotty children and provide for a wife. I might spend my spare time entertaining other losers by writing stories of my escapades as a womanizer on the internet. I would have provided nothing good for the greater benefit of the society and my father would still be calling me a loser. So, don't you agree that I made the right choice about life?"
"With all respects, sir. No."


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