“Jag ska bli doktor,” a four-year-old boy announced to his family sixty years ago.
Somehow, everything he did after that moment seemed to move him in that direction, even when, on the surface, his path through life seemed to be meandering.
As a student, he was just as interested in literature and philosophy as he was in scientific subjects. He even failed his first quiz in organic chemistry just after receiving the Berzelius scholarship for achievements in inorganic chemistry.
As a boy scout, he learned to find his way with or without map and compass, mastered the building of lean-tos and rope bridges, and came to travel the world, even following Baden Powell’s steps in the Swiss Alps. He edited the troop newsletter and, years later, he became a troop leader.
He spent a summer with a rural pastor, helped decorate his small church for midnight masses, read scripture in the dark, played guitar from behind the altar, and watched the aging man of the cloth look up to the sky in tears and ask God for stronger faith and divine help in managing his own shortcomings and weaknesses.
He spent a year as an exchange student in Massachusetts, and although he was homesick for Sweden at first, he left the U.S. just as homesick for it as he had been for his native country when he first arrived.
He marched, stopped and turned in musty uniforms and sore army boots to the relentless commands of his drill sergeant and crawled in the mud under low-slung barbed wire. He conquered his fears and held on to the rope that pulled thirty soldiers on bicycles behind a military vehicle down Swedish gravel roads.
He worked as a substitute teacher with wide-eyed, eagerly listening fifth graders and bored-to-death teenagers.
And at age 21 he entered the only medical school he thought of applying to; he just knew he wanted to go to Uppsala University. Only after the application deadline did it occur to him that perhaps he could have put down the Karolinska Institute as a backup plan.
As a medical student, he didn’t party, and he didn’t study all that much. He took tidy notes with a fountain pen and spent much of his time on his second-hand couch, listening to James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel and cassette tapes of American FM radio he recorded on visits to the place he was longing for.
Today, he has lived much longer in America than in Sweden. He is part teacher, part pastor, part boy scout and still a student of literature and philosophy. He finds solace and inspiration in writing about his personal journey and that of the patients who put their lives in his hands.
And he is starting to feel a little bit like the doctor he set out to be.
“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.
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