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Some sort of heaviness descended on our class as a whole over the last few weeks. Not sure where it came from, but nearly four months in we are collectively finding ways to support one another, find our common purpose and orient ourselves toward the center. Group emails have been flying back and forth, and several students have organized extracurricular activities to sooth, reaffirm and strengthen our ties with one another. I may have said in my first post that the strength of this school is its people. Still true, maybe never more so. We’re a very diverse group of 170+. Never been around so many brilliant people. And viewpoints. And willingness to articulate a viewpoint.
We’ve been absorbed with absorbing everything we can from coursework: how do the lungs work, how the heck do the kidneys have so many transporters? And so on. Maybe it started taking its toll. It snowed today. Who knows. We have a good group of class advocates who worked with administration to adjust some of our schedule to try to rebalance things. I’m glad we’re at a place where the school is open like that. But it’s definitely some kind of syndrome that we’ve fallen upon. Maybe we’re ready for Thanksgiving. Who knows.
For myself, I must admit to a bit of staring off into space. I’ve been thinking about the words of warning from mentors and friends: “med school is not for the faint of heart,” and “hold on to your humanity,” “we need people like you to become doctors,” and “you’re going to be a great physician.” I think of these things and cringe a bit when I hear something like “the basic sciences get thrown out the window after the first two years” from older students, residents and, frankly, The Internet. Holy smokes. We sure are learning a lot of basic science. Never have I put in so much work to be just an average student. We don’t have a class or a culture here that makes us compete with one another. It’s pure pass-fail, and there is a true spirit of collaboration that permeates our class. But nonetheless. I’ve never not been the master of whatever I’m studying. And I find myself needing reminders myself of what the heck that core of humanity looks like. I wonder if it’s normal to be experiencing this only 4 months in, to essentially wonder “what have I gotten myself into?” I venture yes. But sometimes it’s just not talked about.
A personal note that I promise to tie back into our experience in medical school:
One of the things I love doing, that bring true meaning and a deep sense of satisfaction into my life is working with alcoholics and drug addicts. There’s nothing that brings so much peace and joy to my heart than volunteering at some of the rehabs and detox centers here in Ann Arbor. Tonight, after studying as much renal physiology as my mind could manage, I got dinner with a friend and ventured over to a local detox facility. There, I met with a young lad who got sober as a teenager only to relapse during college and find himself bottoming out at a head-shop out west. He had recently been medically detoxed, and experienced acute renal failure. He couldn’t be more than 25. For the time I was with him, I cared for nothing more than his sanity, his feeling of connectedness, belonging and value. I didn’t think one bit about my own troubles as an early medical student. And when he mentioned his kidney failure, I thought, “I better get a handle on that kidney.” And then the thought just passed, and I got to spend the rest of my evening talking to this fellow, and sharing my time with him. I know that, as with patients in medicine, my role is to show up and do my best; my genuine and sincere efforts, and come from a place of love. There really is nothing else. And I have to believe that. That the whole reason I am going to medical school is to be of greater service and efficiency in helping people. And through this process, as I experienced tonight and on so many other nights, be healed in some way myself.
I have to believe that this experience is what I’m suiting up for when I put on a pair of unwashed pants, quickly brush my teeth and book it for another morning of bagels and cream cheese, and the memorization of countless transporters.
I’m going to close out this somewhat rambling post with a video from a time in my life that was deeply meaningful to me.
When I was 25, I had just started a cause-oriented PR firm that mostly did non-profit work in Utah. My clients were farmer’s markets, some classical music groups, political candidates, a chain of indie record stores, and a yoga studio that become somewhat of a home-away-from-home. Anyway, toward the end of the year I transferred my client load to a business partner and took a leap of faith by living with some fellow junior yogis for two months on the beach. I didn’t know what I signed up for, really, and going into the trip one of my goals was even to get into “the best physical shape of my entire life.” To be short, it wasn’t like that at all. Not all the times were pretty. It was a full-on experience that I won’t get into. But it included people freaking out about their lives on the roof, laughing, crying, and an overriding sense that we were each on this planet to do something unique and wonderful. And that life had great mystery and meaning.
It’s the rare individual who draws inspiration through slogging through medical coursework in the basement of Fursty. But where should the vital threads of life itself come together more than in the practice of medicine? Who knows. See you in class.