My ex-classmate, known for his joking nature and perpetual tardiness to class, looked at me with an uncharacteristically serious face and said solemnly, “You have a story.”
It certainly didn’t feel that way.
Due to personal reasons and unforeseen circumstances, I had taken a leave of absence from med school for the spring semester of my second year with plans to re-begin school in July with the class below me. I had boldly taken the glamorous work study job helping with the orientation clerkship for the incoming third year medical students, the friends and acquaintances with whom I had spent three semesters studying and learning beside, grabbing pre-exam Panera dinners, and hiking in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains on our weekends off. I thought facing my social anxieties of leaving my class and joining another head on was the best way to approach my fears whether they existed only in my head or if it was all as awkward as I imagined.
I had had six months to come to terms with, learn from, and deal with my situation, during which I gained clinical experience and conducted research during a preceptorship with a primary care internist, served my surrounding community as a member of the City of Albany Tulip Court, and trained for an iron distance triathlon while raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association. My old classmates spent that same time cruising through a half dozen more themes on the pathophysiology of the cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and other body systems, and then studied intensely for and succeeded in the battle against Step 1 of the USMLE. My jumbled hodgepodge of attempts to take advantage of my unexpected time off, get back in touch with my passion for serving others, and cross a lifelong goal off my bucket list was like walking in place on a treadmill, never really moving forward, in comparison to my classmates’ gargantuan steps forward towards their MDs.
After running around for an hour before their arrival that morning setting up fake arms that velcroed onto those of the students and models of male and female genitalia filled with water decorated with yellow food coloring to practice injections and foley catheter placements, I was somewhat stressed, honestly quite sweaty thanks to the unforgiving Albany summer humidity, and not feeling like someone with a “story” that this future doctor was telling me I was.
I insisted that he, too, had a story. Instead of accepting the recycled compliment or cracking a joke like I expected, though, he responded in a humble, almost sad, and perhaps even envious way, “Not really. One day I’ll look back and remember I went to college, went to med school, and became a doctor. You’re doing cool things. You’re making a difference in the world. You have a story.”
This time I believed him.
Maybe my path to becoming a doctor hasn’t been the most conventional one, but I realize it certainly doesn’t take away from the good I (hope that I) project into the world. And maybe, just maybe, if my so-called story inspired one person, it might have a similar effect on others.
My story is one of lonely, heartbroken tears and uncontrollable, makes-your-stomach-hurt laughter. My story is one of frustrating, why-is-this-happening challenges and shining moments of adventitious triumph. My story is one of monotonous weeks studying in the library for a seemingly endless amount of time and periods of adventure that I hoped would never end.
Thank you for allowing me to share bits and pieces of my story with you this year.