It is time, I write this love letter to medicine. Medicine has, both in its application and in its practice, literally saved my life more than once. A mild chronic illness aside, I am generally healthy, until I am not. And, given a tumultuous (putting it mildly) life story, medicine gave me the vision and goals I always craved.
In fact, if I may offer an explanation by way of a (not so common) love story:
My grandfather, may he forever dine at Odin’s table and fight by Odin’s side, once told me that he hated the definition of “true love” some TV show put forward. “That’s not love,” he told me. Instead, he said, I needed to imagine coming home to my partner having the worst stomach flu of their lives, sitting on the shitter with the door open, an audiovisual-olfactory representation of a digestive system gone awry.
“If you then walk in, see her, and you have butterflies of love in your stomach,” he said, “then you truly love her.”
Well, I have those butterflies every day before going to work or Uni. I have them, when I explain something medical to students and when I am being taught. I have them, when I open the door and hear the sounds of the ER, smell the smells, see the patients, nurses, doctors, and others criss-crossing around me.
I love this job.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be on Starship Enterprise and explore the unknown. An astronaut. You’re too dumb to be one, my teachers said, and told me to get a job packing peanuts or something like that.
Turns out, I became more. I explore the last frontier here on earth, the human body. Its intricate mesh of chemicals and signals, proteins folding, cells producing energy, all that turning into laughter, breathing, speaking, hugging, thinking, crying, grieving, and more.
I am a bionaut, a biomechanic, a medic. I cause those feelings and I understand them, all the way down to the respiration chain in the mitochondria of the cell. I can give hope, save lives, give comfort, and give presence. I am all that, and more.
When I left the world of dotcom hustle and went on to cook (again), I believed I’d found my forever-home. Turns out, the only real forever home is a 6 foot hole in the ground, and cooking, at times, felt like it. Yes, I was happy, very happy. I loved the work, the bustle, the stress, the feeling of actually doing something rather than spending hours in planning meetings and standup circle jerks. But the road ahead was pretty much the same all the way to the horizon. Come in, clean kitchen, mise en place, smoke, have a coffee, start cooking, end cooking, clean, bar, sex with a waitress, sleep, repeat.
I should have known. In my days doing counseling I often advised survivors of abusive relationships to give it time, to allow themselves to unlearn toxic ideas and behaviors that had been violently pushed into them by their previous ordeal. Dotcom was my abusive relationship, a sheen of happiness and openness that covered a toxic pit of ego, excuse making marathons, self-loathing and self-pity, combined with the illusion of relevancy.
Cooking, for all its faults and hardships, taught me to unlearn those learned responses. I never forgot them, but now they served as stark reminders to avoid certain patterns in me and others who exhibited them. Which is, why my first day in medicine stuck out so much.
I was older than everyone else. Not by much (this changed once I entered med school and was, literally, the age of many of my classmates’ parents), but enough to see things they did not (yet). And I liked what I saw.
An emphasis on personal responsibility. A focus on service and “being there,” because it was the right thing to do, not a pathway to riches or fame, or because “that’s what they pay me to do.” The bionaut feeling slowly emerged as I began to see humans not only as meat vehicles carrying imperfect brains, but complicated, wonderful, amazing, bewildering, and often mysterious collections of intricate mechanics, signals, and checks and balances.
Those new views did not depersonalize my patients. In the contrary. As the owners of such amazing machinery, my patients became more of a person and less of a syndrome.
Over the coming months and years, I’d learn how to treat patients in helicopters and in the middle of a burning field after a multi-car pileup. I watched life begin and end. I saw into the eyes of a mother holding her newborn and a father receiving the news, that his son would not make it. I saw hope, desperation, love, hate, resolve, strength, and defeat.
It was, in a sense, as if the world I lived in had been two-dimensional and suddenly became 3D. And my road didn’t end at the horizon. I could see it change in front of my eyes, branch, and promise new, and excitingly different, landscapes just around the next corner.
I’d finally unlearned the toxic patterns. I felt free. I felt as if my being made a difference to the world that went above and beyond changing my avatar on Facebook or my Twitter bio. I wasn’t preaching, wasn’t posturing, I was doing. And with the doing, from cooking to medicine, came the succeeding. And with that came happiness.
And that’s why I never regretted medicine. Not since the first day I walked into a hospital, my legs shaking with excitement, to do my first internship day.