Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ruined by Reality

Was that me, dressed up in a dark suit doing my best not to look intimidated?

Three years have changed and these fourth year students filing into our conference room remind me of a younger self. How they shine bright with curiosity for answers only their future will tell. The prospect of a career in medicine is exciting for them now. It is the beginning of a new world. Everything, it was all for this. Again, with another September starts another match.

It is that time of year again, when a competition ensues to capture the most valuable of prizes, a medicine residency in a prestigious institution. There are only a handful of these and that makes each and every position precious. Each of these students knows it will be a critical steppingstone to a future glorious career, and so did I.

I had survived a breakup with my fiancé, struggled through four years of medical school in a foreign country, even found the love of my life while there and got married. I came to the Mad House is 2002 anticipating a day of sweating and squirming as I attempt to guess the most desired answer. I had the future in my hands, they wanted me, and the prospect of a career as an internal medicine doctor was exhilarating. I remember running home to tell my wife that I was offered a position, hardly able to contain myself.

So what happened?

That young man and this seasoned resident, they are such different people. In between them three years of an internal medicine residency that drove that same young man on a path to…well, you read this blog don’t you?

Unfortunately, the real world happened.

Saving a troubled father of two from a severe bout of congestive heart failure was rousing. Saving that same father from another bout and yet another simply because he refuses to take medications can be downright depressing. They say memory is selective, I find mine tends to select for depressing moments.

This is one of the reasons I never delete negative comments. They ground me. Often, they allow me to reflect on the true magnitude of what it is that we do. Somewhere and sometimes I make a difference. And that is essentially one of the greatest things anyone can do. But I’ve lost a large part of my former compassionate self.

At times though, I do miss that young fourth year. Would he disapprove of what he has become, a new breed of healer and warrior struggling with himself to survive?

Reading this you probably think my patients don’t appreciate my efforts. But, my patients actually do like me. I know you wouldn’t think so from reading this blog but judging from the comments and gifts I get at my clinic, they must.

So to all the fourth year students who have that jazz in their step, bouncing on clouds, hoping to high-heaven they do well. I wish you all the best. Moreover, I wish you the wisdom to know that what you are doing, as depressing and downright useless as it may sometime feel, is immeasurable good, even if your patients don’t know it.

Like well trained warriors, don’t let your compassion run dry, but do learn with who it’s worth fighting your battles.