When you make a major life choice, and do so with the hopes of not looking back, chances are, you’ll look back–a lot.
Once upon a time, I was young and enthusiastic, and thought I could change the world.
Wait–doesn’t everyone feel that way, at some point?
For me, that enthusiasm turned toward the world of medicine: as an inherently compassionate, intelligent person, I thought I could bring some sweet, albeit well-informed, spirit into an industry that has, in many cases, lost its bedside manner altogether.
I was twenty-four years old when I enrolled in PA school, and didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Fast forward six years, and I found myself reeling from the ambush of experiences I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to handle.
In my short tenure working in the world of medicine, I experienced what I realize now were some very traumatic scenarios–scenes that a majority of human beings just couldn’t handle being witness to without some sort of long-lasting repercussions.
While working in the surgical world and less than a year after finishing PA school (mind you, I was now just twenty-six-years-old) I found myself in the operating room, harvesting veins out of people’s legs for cardiovascular surgeons to use in bypass surgeries. Harvesting veins is tricky business with fragile specimens. If you offer up a harvested vein with any nicks or holes in it, the implanted vein could leak, and the person could potentially bleed to death–in a matter of minutes. That’s hefty responsibility for a new grad.
While working in orthopedics, I functioned under a womanizing, industry demigod who required me to satisfy the requests of his narcotic-seeking patients…despite my better judgment and the risk to my own license. I handled the paper work for worker’s compensation patients–for those who didn’t want to go back to work and did everything they could to avoid it, and those that did want to go back to work, but were too injured to be able. I witnessed accidents in the operating room that rendered people permanently injured–and a lack of honesty during those post-op visits about what actually transpired while the patient was asleep.
While moonlighting in the ER–working a few extra hours in hopes of paying off my student loans a bit faster–I saw women miscarrying the fetuses that would’ve been the babies they so desperately wanted. I performed chest compressions on a seventeen-year-old kid who’d been shot by his best friend with the hand gun the two boys had snuck out of the friend’s dad’s gun safe (or bedside table drawer?) I performed chest compressions on that kid–his lifeless chest heaving under my efforts with me winded so easily, five months pregnant with our first child at the time. The bullet exit wound on his upper abdomen (bullets have a strange way of ricocheting around, once they’ve entered the body) was only finger breadths away from my compressing hands–so innocuous looking. So Hollywood make-up like.
I was thirty-years-old.
I surgically assisted in not one, but three of the most graphic, horrendous surgeries known to (wo)man: hemipelvectomies: a procedure in which a person’s entire leg, and half of their pelvis are surgically removed…a hopefully life-saving procedure (with a low percentage for success) for an aggressive form of metastatic cancer. While in the OR, the joke usually went around–whomever was the least senior person in the room (by years of tenure, not by professional rank) had to be the one to carry the leg away from the table. Guess who was usually the least senior one in the room? Can you imagine the weight of an adult man or woman’s leg and half pelvis?
I was less than thirty-years-old during those surgeries.
At what point does a person become emotionally mature enough to handle these types of things and avoid being permanently scarred? Would I have had a better shot at succeeding in the career I thought I wanted, had it not been for these early on experiences? Do other twenty-something-year-olds who pursue a career in medicine experience the same types of things and not become permanently scarred by them? If so, what does that say about those people?
Every time I find myself talking with someone in the medical industry–a former colleague, a friend, an acquaintance, a health care provider for our family–I can put on my old hat again. I can talk the talk, share in the lingo, operate intelligibly. I go away from the conversation missing that part of my life a little–being apart of a club, a fraternity, a society in which not just anyone can belong.
And then I remember how I felt for all those years when I struggled to decide: do I belong in the world of medicine? Do I, really? Or is there another place for me…a place in which I can have an effect in the well-being of people who consume our medical industry, but from a drastically different vantage point?
I am now in the process of researching grad school options for myself–again. I have thoughts to communicate, things to do and changes to create. I feel it in my bones. But those thoughts, things and changes will enter the world through a different avenue this time. For me, I am sure, a more successful avenue.