Not so long ago, doctors barely featured in the media. It was frowned upon. But the oncologist Drauzio Varella felt compelled to speak on the radio about caring for AIDS epidemic in Brazil — it was 1983 and, after all, there was no time to waste.
Then he was upset when he found out his interview had been re-aired without his permission. He called Jovem Pan’s director of journalism, Fernando Vieira de Mello, and said he would end up having a bad reputation with doctors.
Then he heard “if that’s the case, you have to decide whether you want to help people avoid the disease or get along with your colleagues”. Needless to say which alternative you chose. Nearly four decades later, it’s rare to find a health debate that doesn’t benefit from the active participation of Drauzio Varella.
At 79, the doctor maintains a routine that is not enviable just because it seems exhausting. Outraged subscribe to a column in this newspaperhe maintains services in prisons, gives lectures and participates in television programs and produces relentless material for his website, YouTube channel and social networks.
He stopped seeing his private practice two years ago. “Today I’m just a prison doctor,” says the svelte native of São Paulo, with 183 centimeters balanced on 70 kilos, having fun pulling out a chair to give this interview.
It was the opening of the clinic that allowed him to find the time to write his fuller autobiography, now launched by Companhia das Letras. And finally, the inversion is consummated – now, he notes, communication is his main activity.
“Doctors have come to understand that spreading scientific knowledge is part of the profession. Now we don’t even talk about the pandemic anymore,” he says. “When I started, going into a media outlet was self-propaganda. Those plastic surgeons you saw on TV in the afternoon talking about how they lift a woman’s breast.”
The title of the book, “The Exercise of Uncertainty”, sets the tone of his crusade against medical arrogance, “twin sister of vanity” and “daughter of insecurity and unpreparedness”.
“From the beginning, the doctor wields power through his knowledge,” he says. “You are sure that when you master certain knowledge and certain protocols, you will be a good doctor and there will be no more mistakes. As you get older, you see that this is not the case.”
This vagueness inevitably leads to a constant feeling of guilt. “In over 50 years of intense activity, I can’t remember a single day when I went to bed with a sense of accomplishment,” he wrote.
It is something inherent in most doctors, but aggravated by his public personality, so recognized and carried to the last consequences by the whirlwind of demands created with smartphones, for him “the most diabolical of inventions” .
To read this autobiography is to see half a century of evolution of medicine through the lens of Drauzio. If the dizzying increase in knowledge about diseases and cures was an obvious encouragement for doctors, it also has the empty side of the glass, such as a population that consumes excess drugs and an insurance system in which the account don’t close.
“Before, you had a doctor and he accompanied you all your life. You caught a cold, there was a doctor such and such. But the one who had a family doctor was a privileged class”, he reflects.
“What’s happened is that medicine has become very impersonal. And doctors have been thrown into a job market where they have to be productive and serve a lot of people. You make a lot of mistakes when you do that. When you have to bring medicine to everyone, the norm will fall.”
Let’s not confuse this with a critique of the unified health system, which enshrined a universal right for Brazilians in 1988. “I doubt that in the next hundred years Brazilian medicine will undergo a revolution that reaches the feet of creation of SUS“, he writes.
“What hurts about SUS is that everything it needs to function is there,” he says. “You don’t have to create anything. There are primary care, small regional hospitals, with islands of excellence. Everything is organized, but the structure does not work. The guy has pain in his throat, but he goes to the emergency room, not the emergency room attendant. health. So a wonderful system is paralyzed.
It is a crisis that does not come from today. Drauzio points out that it is impossible to create a decent health policy when there were 13 different ministers in the field between 2008 and 2018.
And in the government of Jair Bolsonaro? “Oh, there is no way to analyze what has been done,” he laments. “It was a crime in progress.” The doctor says he doesn’t usually make his voting choice public. “The only thing I can say is that it’s not possible with this guy,” he predicts.
“It cannot happen that this person remains in power for another four years. Brazil could have put on a show in the pandemic. A show. On the other hand, it was the only country in the world where the highest authority was in favor of the spread of the virus. “
With one of the most notable careers in Brazilian medicine and education – it rains in the wet to remember his work with incarcerated men and women, the success of his HIV and HIV awareness campaigns tobacco, the foundation of the Objetivo kindergarten with his friend João Carlos Di Genio, who already pointed out his legendary didacticism, it is natural that a biography of this magnitude arouses the interest of the professional Drauzio Varella.
But “The Exercise of Uncertainty” also opens the window to a more intimate Drauzio, husband of actress Regina Bragafather of two daughters and grandfather of two granddaughters, included in the book with shy reluctance.
We see the boy who witnessed his mother’s death at the age of four and didn’t tell that story in public until decades later; the teenager who smoked because he didn’t know what to do with his hands at parties; the man of letters who skilfully quotes Tolstoy, Gogol and Drummond; the oldest man who believed he was going to die of yellow fever.
If medicine is not impersonal, neither can it be a doctor’s biography. “You know, we are living a unique experience,” he comments at the end of the conversation, with the excitement of a marathon runner. “When I was born, life expectancy was 45. Today, if a 70-year-old dies, they are thought to have died prematurely. My whole generation, in that sense, has been very privileged. “