A Doctor in King Arthur’s Court

I am not a nostalgic person. Any time somebody notes that it would be fun to go back 200 years and experience an event, the first thing that goes through my mind is that there would be no flush toilets. My phone would be useless to either call for help or search the Internet for information about where I was. And as far as I know, there wasn’t a decent multiplex anywhere in the world.

I must admit that there is one element of the “old” days that sounds attractive to me. Once upon a time, you were given a shield and a sword and you were pointed towards the enemy. There were no questions asked. The enemy was clearly marked, and it was your job to hack through them until you reached their commanders. The actual scene of such an encounter was hellish. Body parts were everywhere, people only wounded would lie for hours until either they managed to get up or died from their wounds. There was no pain control and no antibiotics. It was literally hell on earth.

So the obvious question is, why such an event would appeal to me. We live in a world that is almost entirely gray. There are no black and white decisions anymore. Even if one country was to drop a nuclear bomb on another, it’s not clear how the world would react to that. In fact, the world would probably be screaming that an alternative to war must be found lest the escalation spread to the entire world and lead to total annihilation.

I personally have been in the midst of my own war for the last three years. I built something which turned out to be very unique, very powerful and arguably the secret sauce that made a former employer capable of building somewhat of an empire. I left this employer when I felt that the philosophical direction of this [private] company, became fundamentally inconsistent with my own. I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not in any way claiming moral superiority. I have come to realize that just because someone does not agree with me [no matter how sure I am, and adamant I am that I am right], does not make them evil. Two groups can have diametrically opposed ideas, but neither is the spawn of Satan.

I actually wonder if the day will come when two or more AI systems get into an argument. It could be an issue of how to apply a certain algorithm to a set of data. One AI system will insist that its algorithm is the best fit. The other AI system will say to the first one “your mother wears silicon boots” and will insist that its algorithm is by far the best. Something like this will happen and we will need to be able to validate different algorithms to find which is the best. It might be that one algorithm is faster but produces a slightly less accurate result, and the reverse would be true for the second algorithm. But even in the world of electrons, legitimate differences of opinion exist.

My personal problem is that I cannot accept this. Intellectually, I understand that I need to respect the opinions of others, even when they challenge, at the most basic level, my own. Emotionally, I can’t do this. I can’t pretend to smile or shake hands with someone whose opinion counters my sense of morality. Of course, everyone around me could say that mine is only one opinion, and there are literally millions of people who disagree with me. And I would be told that it is nothing short of insanity to insist on moral righteousness, when everyone around you tells you, you are a fool.

That’s why, if I am going to be nostalgic, it’s going to be for a time when decisions were black and white. There is a brilliant line of dialogue in the movie “Robin and Marian” which was about the last days of Robin Hood. At one point, Robin Hood (played by who else than Sean Connery) is speaking with Will Scarlet and telling him how mad King Richard was. Will asks Robin Hood “so why did you follow him?”. And Robin Hood, looking surprised at the question, simply answers “because he was my King”. No gray. Black-and-white.

Throughout my life I have been a person who has followed his heart and there is no question, it led me astray more than once. On the other hand, it seems that every time I trusted the wisdom of the public, and denied my heart’s content, the results were even more dramatically negative.

So what should I do in this case? There is no question that I am alone in my viewpoints. What I see as a travesty of justice, others say is within the limits of legality. What I see as a fundamental moral failure, others tell me is unreasonable expectations of other people. What I see as greed, I am told is legitimate business practice.

I don’t have a sword. I don’t have even a piece of wood that I could use as a club. And given my health status, I couldn’t even raise either of these items over my head, and use them with any efficacy. I would be an old man, laughed at by my enemies, as they realize that I no longer pose any kind of threat to them.

And what about my heart and my emotional outrage that still burns inside of me? I guess I will just have to wait until that flame burns out, or I will simply carry it with me to the grave.

I went into medicine with a very simpleminded, innocent, foolish perception of what I could achieve. I discovered rather quickly, and had it reinforced to me far too many times, that the world is not a fair place, that politics and money affect  patient care far too much, that ego can literally destroy potential and most importantly, my standing in the rain and screaming to the heavens changes nothing.

If I could go back in time, I would not become a doctor. I can’t honestly say that I’ve helped more people than I have seen hurt by the system I was a part of. I think I would’ve just studied computer science and advanced math, and found myself a very bland position in the Israeli army. The problem with all of this is that it would deny me the three amazing people who I am lucky to call my children. So if I have to choose between losing my war versus losing my three stars, I’ll accept losing my war.

I wish I had some sage advice for people who are fighting their own battles. I have learned one thing – it is not fair to expect anyone else, even a spouse or sibling or even parent, to share your anger, rage or disgust over any topic. It could be who gets elected president, it could be how your next-door neighbor treats his children [I am not talking about overt abuse], it could be how an old man’s children treat him. Your personal moral outrage is your own. And you have no right to expect  that someone next to you should feel the same outrage.

I guess the trick is to find someone who does share that outrage before you put a ring on his or her finger. It’s easy enough to lose the battle over  what color curtains are best in the living room. But it is nearly intolerable to lose the war over those issues that burn in your heart.

I truly thank you for listening. I am open to feedback and comments. And if anything I’ve said, has touched the hearts of someone amongst my readers, then at least I have achieved something.

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.