He squeezed into the elevator just as the door was closing. There was a lightness about him, an excitement. His jacket was newly pressed and uncomfortably free of nicks or stains. He stood at attention with perfect posture. There was no sign that working at this early hour on a Sunday morning, nor even being awake, was something out of the ordinary. Extraordinary.
He glanced over at my tattered lab jacket without trying to seem obvious. I’d like to think that is was the gray color (as opposed to his white) that gave me away as an attending physician. More likely it was the telltale signs of aging that I have been doing my best not to notice. I slumped against the back wall and waited for the doors to open. My eyes flickered and closed for a moment, but opened quickly.
I was drawn to him. The energy emanated from his body, and pinned me into the deepest corners of the elevator. I couldn’t decide whether to envy or pity him. A young intern, he was at the mere beginning of his medical journey. He couldn’t yet fathom the degree of wonderment and heartbreak he would experience over the next few years. The joy and the guilt. The triumph and the disappointment.
There is a whole world ahead of him. A world I have become strangely accustomed to. Racing into the hospital on a Sunday morning is no longer novel or extraordinary. It is part of my weekly routine. I get up early and round at the hospital and nursing homes in order to be back home before the kids awake. There is no excitement.
Instead, there is a gentle quietness. A certainly that comes from years of sparring with health and disease. An acceptance of both the hardships and joy involved in spending one’s time contending with the human condition.
As the door opened, I awoke from my reverie, and sprung towards the hallway and the ICU. I patted him firmly on the shoulder as I passed by.
I caught one last glimpse of him as I turned the corner.
He was still standing in the elevator doorway, his face a strange mix of confusion and pride.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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