I found the soul of medicine in a clinic in the north of Jamaica. Two years into medical school, I was beginning to forget the feel of the light, but the soul of medicine found me when I was deepest in the dark. Its soul is a flickering bulb that lights a rusted exam room. It’s a whispering you hear while listening to breath sounds over the pattering of rain on a tin roof. The soul of medicine is embracing a stricken patient in the midst of an exam, and in the race-car noises that follow the children out of the clinic and into the yard.
On the trip where I discovered the soul, we lived simply. We slept in a church dormitory covered in scratchy blankets and talked and sang until the night wore on into early morning. Our days were full and we worked through our lunches. Without a lab or an x-ray machine, the senses became attuned to the sights, smells, and feels of the soul. This was medicine at its purest. Transported back a century to a time when there was still much healing to be found in a touch and a compassionate smile.
This was everything I hoped that medicine would be. There was no administrative pressure. No hoops. No insurance. Patients came to our clinic for help and we gave it to them without question. Everything, from medicines to braces and from vitamins to children’s books. The soul of medicine is a beautiful and fleeting thing, but once found it seldom is lost. Even though I only spent a week inhabiting the soul of medicine in that clinic in northern Jamaica, the memory of it has sustained me through the grime and ink that has sometimes obscured it. Now, back at home, I can’t help but notice the shining soul, visible even under the fluorescent lights, and audible even over the sound of machinery. I hope it never leaves me.