29 May 2007

picking up the thread: is it worth it?

first i must note that my beloved mac is finally back in my possession. i might not let it out of my sight again--that was one long tough week without it! i must thank the mac geniuses--they replaced both my fans, gratis. now the only periodic odd noise i hear is the sound of my cat, biddle, growling at the fed-ups man. did i mention that my cat thinks she's a dog? ;-)


i've spent a considerable amount of time lately pondering my pursuit of higher education. i'm not questioning the thirst for knowledge itself, mind you, but the actual paying-of-tuition / sitting-in-classes / eventually-getting-degree part of this whole journey to become a physician. choosing to delay my education for another year has left me feeling a bit depressed. this year, when (if?) i start medical school again, i'll be 30. i know chronological age is essentially meaningless (unless you're an actuary), but for some reason, i feel odd about this fact of turning 30. it's a petty thing, really--i'm experiencing that "always on the outside looking in on other's lives" syndrome that accompanies one of those life moments when everyone i come into contact with seems to have something that i want, yet lack. you know these people: they have the mcjob or the mchouse or the mcpartner or the mcbaby or the mcdog or...the real clincher for me these days...the mchealth. some people i come into contact with even have all of these things, including the mchappiness. i guess they got all the mcluck, too, eh?

the envy i feel probably stems most from having too much time to think. but recently, i realized that i'm not the only one gnawing on these feelings and issues, particularly as they relate to medical school and the sacrifice it entails. this is where i catch onto the thread--dr_panda_bear asked the question first, as far as i can tell, and dr_urostream mentioned it next--and so i might as well audibly voice the question that ricochets through the head of every med student as they hit yet another bump in the road: is it worth it?

it's a heavy question. one might think, based upon my recent "toad list" post where i ranted about some of the worst physicians on record, that i have a negative view of the medical profession. the truth is the opposite: i tend (to a fault?) to see the positive first. i'm a bit of an idealist in this way...and a tad gullible, i suspect, too. it's been difficult for me to answer questions posed to me about medical school and whether it's worth all the time/effort/energy/money/sacrifice/stress/etc. the other bloggers do a great job of addressing the issues in their posts--i wish i could write so cogently and analytically in response to the question.

when i ponder the question as to whether or not it's worth it for me to continue medical school, a certain experience comes to mind--the one that confirmed my convictions about being called to this career path. the story, i believe, speaks for itself:

when i first became interested in a career in medicine, one of my physicians, fertile_doc, hired me to work as the slave in his office for the summer. i spent most of my first few weeks on the job culling the thirty years of medical records and journals that were beginning to eat up all the storage space in the office. toward the end of the summer, though, i began doing more clerical work and having some interaction with patients.

the office was chronically busy, particularly on mornings when the ultrasound technician was present, as the majority of fertile_doc's practice surrounded treating couples with infertility issues and ultrasound plays a key role in this process. on one such morning, we were running a tad late. the waiting room was crowded and the staff was bustling about, trying to get all the phones answered, labs drawn, and insurance forms organized. i'd been assigned to "man the window," checking in patients and making sure charts made it to the appropriate spots on the racks for triage. and i was at the point where i was beginning to feel truly frazzled....

in the midst of this, someone knocked on the window. i groaned silently to myself; i'd thought all the morning's patients had been checked in already. what now? i was prepared to give my memorized, automaton directions to the bathroom, insurance policies, etc. i feared i'd strangle a drug rep if they appeared in the midst of our busiest hours. but i opened the window and was quite puzzled by what i saw. an elderly woman sat in a wheelchair with her husband standing behind her. they were definitely not the sort of people who'd show up for infertility treatment and i wondered as to whether they'd wandered into the wrong office. this was a situation that was going to require me to think. carefully.

"does fertile_doc work here?" the woman asked.
"uh...yes." i replied, still feeling puzzled.
"is fertile_doc here now?"
"yes" i replied. "do you have an appointment?"
"no" she said, "but i would like to speak to him."
"I'd be happy to schedule an appointment for you."
the woman looked at me--my confusion was no doubt clear by this point--and then struggled to pull herself up out of the wheelchair until she was standing. now eye-to-eye with me, she said:
"twenty-four years ago, fertile_doc detected my breast cancer during a routine exam. i survived because he discovered it early. i'm here because i would like to thank him."
she then carefully lowered herself back down into the wheelchair.

a few minutes later, i watched as this woman thanked fertile_doc for
what he'd done. most physicians i'd known treated breast exams as a perfunctory part of the physical examination. it's another one of those areas in which technology (in this case, mammography) often replaces good hands-on examination in medicine. but fertile_doc always took this portion of the exam seriously, taking time to really look and feel for lumps and changes in breast tissue. now i knew why he did so. it was a profound lesson.

as i watched this frail woman give fertile_doc a hug, i discovered something even more profound: fertile_doc had given this woman more time--time to be with her children, her husband, her loved ones...time to live. with one small, attentive act in the midst of an everyday job, fertile_doc made a huge difference in this woman's life.

it was in that moment, watching this interaction unfold, that i realized that there was nothing more meaningful i could do with my life than follow a career that had the potential to give even one person an extra minute, day, month, year, of quality life.

is anything worth more than that opportunity?


the answer for me, to the question "is it worth it?" is a simple resounding yes. in spite of all the bullsh!t that surrounds medicine these days, I believe it is a privilege to become a physician.

to all those physicians who have taken care of me, my loved ones, and even (especially?) the homeless jane & john does on the street: thank you for choosing to make the sacrifice, to dive in, & serve by example to show students that the pursuit of medicine is, indeed, worth it.

1 comment:

kristina said...

Glad to see you back. And so verbose as well! I guess you had a backlog of thoughts swirling around up there...hope life is working itself out.

a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)