When I opened my acceptance package from SCNM, a bunch of confetti saguaros, suns, and chili peppers fell all over my floor. I just got an interview at a school in Seattle too, but of all things, I think the confetti might have sold me on Tempe.
I watched “Patch Adams” tonight because a friend told me it was about an alternative approach to medicine, and recent events considered, I ought to see it. I cried a little when I saw “Rent” a few nights ago, but I was sobbing at the end of this one, especially once I realized that it was a true story. (Did you know that it was a true story? I’ve noticed that every time I think that a movie tends too much towards hyperbole or caricatures, it turns out to be true. Truth is stranger than fiction, they say.) I’m nowhere near as creative, nor do I have even a third of the energy that man has. Attempting to connect with someone who really doesn’t want to open up to me is an experience that I find more exhausting than an all-day hike – I can do it, but usually it first requires the mental effort to consciously put aside my own day and thoughts and problems, which is especially difficult for me because I live in my head, a lot. I’ve learned that it’s only possible for me to do this at all when I have enough emotional resources to draw from, enough time to recharge my batteries. You can’t pour into others if you’re empty yourself. I envy those who gather strength from being in crowds.
And yet, energy and even personality aside, Patch did something that I can do: pay attention. Listen. Patch said he realized he wanted to be a doctor the moment he checked himself into a mental hospital and invented a pantomime in keeping with a fellow inmate’s fantasy: suddenly, for that moment, he forgot about his own problems in his efforts to help someone else. It’s never really worked quite so effortlessly for me, but my mom recently told me something similar: I observed that many of her friends seemed to have desperately sad stories, and wondered aloud why it was that the down-and-out types tended to be attracted to my mom. She said she thought it was the other way about: ordinarily she tends to keep to herself, but when she sees someone who needs help, she stops being self-conscious and extends friendship for the sake of the other, rather than for herself.
I need to learn this. Maybe if I got to the point of completely and totally forgetting about myself when trying to hear another person, the effort of connection with a stranger wouldn’t feel so tiring (because it would be as if I were not, in some sense, present). Something that scares me about being a doctor is also one of the very things that makes alternative medicine so appealing to me: the patients are people, not diseases. You pay attention to how they got where they are. You find out what makes them tick, what makes them passionate, what they believe, where they’re hurting (on more than just the physical level). But to do that, you have to be all there, the way this man is. You have to care about and love every person who walks in your doors. I would love to build a swimming pool full of spaghetti noodles so that a sick old woman could swim in them like she’d dreamed of doing all her life. I would love to make balloon animals so that a dying old man could wake up with a popper gun and pretend he was on one last safari. …But I’m the kind of person who likes to spend a rainy Saturday undisturbed in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, reading and writing. Making time for people, and connecting with them and hearing them, is a huge part of what medicine is all about. And I suck at that.
SCNM is on the quarter system. My first quarter I’ll have 26 quarter credits, or seven classes, in – what is a quarter, 13 weeks? Five of those classes are like embryology, anatomy and biochemistry, and all seven will have finals on the same freaking week. “You have to learn to let go of the grades,” the students have told me. This is a school that’s dedicated to holistic health care, yours included (and that means making time for yourself and your social life, recharging so that you have a resource of energy to pour into those patients when the time comes, or into the people in your daily life in the first two years). And yet, other students have told me, “Are you single? Good, stay that way. The breakup and divorce rates are through the roof.” So much for balance.
There are only so many hours in the day (believe me, I’ve learned this the hard way)… and Patch Adams could be who he was because he was brilliant enough to make top grades through medical school with very little effort, so that he could concentrate on people. I’m – ha! – not that way. It’s all too easy for me to get wrapped up in details like grades and miss the bigger picture of, why am I doing this in the first place? What actually matters? God help me, I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten that right except in theory.
But I can’t wait to be in medical school. Finally – finally! – I’ve found an answer. I’m thinking about making my saguaro and chili pepper confetti into some kind of art deco or collage, and hanging it on my wall. I’m so grateful to be in this place.