“Today is the first day of the rest of my life!”
I’m sure you’ve heard that many times before; I’m sure I have. But in my obscure point of existence in this endless universe, that statement has never been more accurate than it is today.
Being a physician has been a flame burning inside my chest my entire life. I decided on it when I was three years old, and aside from the occasional teenage daydream of being an astronomer, I have remained confident on the path to becoming a doctor.
I admit it may have been different had I been born in a culture where one can indulge in daydreams of being a professional travel photographer or a musician, or perhaps allowed to explore college with more aimless pleasures such as liberal arts while taking time to find oneself and experience life.
But, although that may have been a fleeting thought from time to time during my teenage years, it was never an idea that had a chance to take shape, let alone be considered a remote possibility.
You see, in my culture, at least as it was my impression during my “formative” years (whatever that means, I don’t believe you ever stop learning), there was no such thing as “finding oneself.” You were told who to be; you liked what you were made to like, and studying anything that didn’t lead to a reliable source of income was unimaginable. Becoming the tooth fairy would have been equally likely.
I consider myself lucky, though. Among all those high school seniors who were reluctantly signing up for business majors or law school to take over their family businesses, I was excited about the path I was about to undertake. My heart beat faster when learning about the intricacies of how the body functioned, but the theory was nothing compared to the practice. Encounters with patients were profoundly human.
Growing up in a restrictive and often oppressive environment, patients showed me a level of vulnerability I had never experienced in my personal life: there was fear, insecurity, doubt, and pain—emotions I was all too familiar with but had never really witnessed in other adults until then. For the first time in my life, I connected with other human beings. I was in love. I still am to this day.
I grew to be an excellent doctor. I thrived in the clinical environment, which very quickly became second nature. I loved the hospital; I loved the clinics. I learned from patients more than they learned from me. 24-hour shifts flew by. I was dynamic, sharp, and entirely in my element.
I didn’t know that, while I was basking in my clinical prose and feeling of self-importance, my skills as a physician weren’t the only things growing.
I had personal issues, many of them. Most of them stemmed from an abusive childhood, sprinkled with the dust of a medical system that encourages you to suppress individual needs as basic as eating, sleeping, and self-care, all within the pressure cooker of unsaid words and unexplored paths.
That, as far as I am concerned, is my failure. I have failed to suppress. I have failed to endure. I have been unable to be both a doctor and a human being simultaneously.
I feel like I’m giving up and pushing forward, succeeding and failing, fighting and enduring, but also succumbing.
And now, I have no choice but to be human first. I hope that in acknowledging my humanity, I will find fulfillment.
The author is an anonymous physician.