so hi, I'm in med school now! Don't ask me what's wrong with you. I don't know yet.
My first day is tomorrow. I've been studying.
It is very hard to transition from a life in New Orleans, with friends, free time, and a significant other to Lexington, Kentucky (recently named the most sedentary city in America!), living alone, knowing four people. I've spent a lot of time staying home and crying. But that's to be expected, right? With a difficult move! That's all behind me now! (It's not. But I won't have much time to sit around crying in bed after tomorrow.)
One thing I've noticed about myself, as I've sat through this past week of Orientation, is that being told the Institutional Norms and Expectations tends to make me dig in and want to ask "Why?" Let's call it my subversive streak. They've spent a lot of time this week trying to get us to think of ourselves as Professionals now, capital-P and all, and I'm trying to figure out exactly what that means. To me, to us, to our culture. Success IS culturally determined and decided. So how do you be a Successful Young Professional? Do you follow all the right rules? Are you good at your job? Are you courteous to the people around you? Are you respectful of authority?
This isn't something only I have been thinking about, either. There's been an archetype around for a long time of the Idiot Savant,the Brilliant Weirdo, this notion that if you're Good Enough, you can be forgiven things. "Genius is always allowed some leeway, once the hammer has been pried from its hands and the blood has been cleaned up," as Terry Pratchett says. Enter Sherlock Holmes, who's allowed a cocaine habit and shooting holes in his walls (or his modern equivalent House, antisocial and angry with a Vicodin addiction). If you want real life look at Fritz Haber, father of the process we still use to create nitrogen for fertilizer, who came up with gases used in trench warfare in WWI and whose wife and son killed themselves. Genius! There's a subversive element in it. If you're good enough, you get away with a lot. Duh. You knew that in high school, when you realized that if you made straight A's your parents didn't really care what you did with the rest of your time.
But that's not enough, right? If you're good and you want to do good, that's why you go to medical school. I have always been top of my class, high school valedictorian, National Merit Scholar, graduated college even summa cum laude. Because when you're smart you want to be good, you want to do Your Best, and if you can get straight A's in college then you will. I could, and I did.
I don't know if I believe in this system any more.
Medical school is hard. And there are grades. I can, objectively, be smarter or better than my fellow classmates. But I don't think that's helping anymore. Maybe doing research looks good on a resume, but is my resume the most important thing I'm worried about anymore? I hate doing research. (I worked in a very poorly-run lab for a year+.) There comes a point where, in a life-long academic career of competition over, for me, 20 years of school, you have to ask yourself what the endpoint of all the competition is. Do I really want to be an orthopedic surgeon? God, no. I just want to see patients, and help them, and be able to have my own life in the process.
So I think this subversive streak has to do with a journey of self-discovery. If I've spent my whole life doing My Best and Living Up To Expectations of others, then what are my expectations? I've never dyed my hair crazy colors. I've never gotten a tattoo. I conform to the Mainstream American Professional Young Girl. In appearance (height/weight/hair color/eye color/skin color), in attitude (I'm friendly and accommodating), in achievement. So is that what I am?
You want your children to read. I have read. You want your children to exercise. I exercise. You want your children to make straight A's, to eat healthily, to bike instead of drive, to go to college, to be savvy to social media but not attention-hogs, to do summer internships, to do research, to be clean and tidy and nice and accommodating. You want your children to succeed. I have succeeded. My friends, my peers, my class, we have all succeeded. Just the way you wanted us to. And every day I check my Facebook page for the average 15.5 minutes* and watch my friends search for jobs when there aren't any, complain about an American system that sets up expectations for its young people that If You Do This, Then You'll Get A Good Job and Be Happy, or at least can buy all the newest stuff, which is just like being happy, right? But we can't. We've done all the right things and now we can't Get A Good Job or really any kind of job. And I, new first-year medical student, have done the financially smart thing and borrowed almost $50,000 from the federal government to pay for the first of my four years of continuing education.
Why is it so hard for people to meet their basic needs and to live? We've been doing it for millions of years. Is the answer just that life is hard and then you die? Is this how it's always been?
I do not know.
I do not know if I am making the smart/right decision. We do not live in a society where healthcare is working. I'm not sure our medical education system is working. We are doing (as we have always done), the Best that We Can Do and I don't know if it's enough. I have looked out the windows on the interstate as I drove through the South from New Orleans to Kentucky, I have looked at the angry statuses my friends post on the internet, I have looked at the newspapers and the streets and the people and I have thought There must be a better way to live.
how do iron filings orient when there is no magnetic field? how are we, how am I, when there are no expectations to fulfill?
At nights here I stay home. On my subbversive streak I've been rereading Dhalgren, a book I feel privileged to have read once, a book I could spend the next four years reading and still not understand. "I've got a theory now--freedom. You know, here--" Loufer says to the Kid, "you're free. No laws: to break, or to follow. Do anything you want. Which does funny things to you. Very quickly, surprisingly quickly, you become-- [...] --exactly who you are."
*"That’s a full 15.5 minutes the average American spends on Facebook every single day."