It’s a strange thing to be driving about in your car in the middle of the day. For one who has spent the majority of his professional life sheltered in dark offices and aseptic hospitals, the summer sun and fresh breeze is quite lovely. One almost begins to approach humanness. Normal. This must have been what it felt like before immersion into the tribe of medicine.
Sometimes I have trouble remembering my premedical days. The divide seems vast. It is not only the effects of age, but an emotional chasm that has formed over the years. The optimist says I was naive, inexperienced. The more harsh reality is that I have developed a cynicism, a coarseness which permeates all aspects of life. I am a person, I am a doctor. The two mangled halves rarely come together to approach a whole.
But my new reality has begun to unravel the protective coating super glued to my insides. My clinical encounters are but small punctuations in a day filled en route from location to location. Homes, hospitals, nursing homes. I spend more time in the car than anywhere else, and when I am there, I roll down the windows. I turn the radio up. And I am just another guy, speeding down the expressway or caught in traffic.
This feeling like a regular person has had profound effects. It’s helped me look at the world through what seems like an ancient lens: that of a human being first and a doctor second.
I was cruising down a side street the other day when I came to a backup. I cursed as I slowly progressed through the line of cars. It took twenty minutes to traverse a single city block. When I came to the head, I witnessed a macabre scene. An ambulance was pulled over and a couple of paramedics were performing CPR on a shirtless man on the sidewalk. His arms were splayed to the side and his chest flailed with each compression.
Within seconds, I was moving again, and the ambulance was barely visible in my rear view mirror. A lump stuck in my throat and I took a deep breath. I have watched hundreds of people die, I have performed CPR countless times, but this was somehow different.
For just a moment, I had escaped the curse of all those years of training and experience, and was able to just feel.
I am hoping to carry this with me from patient to patient. To use all my knowledge and experience to diagnose and treat, but to care for my patients like the uninitiated.