It was hard to know if I belonged. I wasn’t like the typical medical student. I had never set out to become a doctor, it was never expected of me, and believe it or not, I kind of fell into it. Now I’m not saying it was easy. No, it was fucking hard. I had an ulcer during my first year. Unofficially, of course. The doc that I saw gave me some Nexium, told me to reduce stress, and come back if I wasn’t better. I got better and I never went back.
The first 2 years were the hardest. Two years of sitting in a classroom, listening to endless lectures, dissection and labs, relentless testing and studying. It was isolating and lonely. I was so consumed with school, that looking back on pictures of myself, I noticed my hair had grown passed my shoulder blades, something that has never happened before or since. I hate long hair.
When I met Dr. S during my first clinical rotation as a third year student, I found the equivalent of my spirit animal only in doctor form. He was quirky. He was smart. He engaged with his patients. He was the kind of doc that pulled up his seat next to the patient and listened! That was crazy! They said never sit, it only encourages the patient to talk more…oh what anarchy! That was who I wanted to be!
Not only did he engage with his patients, but he engaged with me, the lowly med student. He saw me. He listened to me and he never berated me even when I didn’t know something. He made me feel like one of them. A doctor. We became a little team. He would call me up the night before clinic and say, “What color scrubs are you wearing tomorrow?” He liked to match. He and I would be like little twins. I told you, he was quirky.
One of my favorite things about Dr. S? He loved art. During the first days of my rotation, he told me I had one homework assignment. I was to discover and present his favorite piece of art to him by the end of the rotation. He would give me hints and I would hurriedly scribble them into my pocket notebook between acid/base equations and medications for COPD. Snippets of art were intermingled with cold hard facts of our trade.
Like a detective, I pieced together his hints. What I didn’t realize until now is that he was teaching me how to be a detective for the patient. He was teaching me to take all the hints and string them together to find the diagnosis. He was teaching me to be a doctor.
By the way, his favorite artist was Caravaggio and his favorite painting was David with the Head of Goliath. I found this to be quite morbid. Caravaggio liked to paint decapitated heads. The head of Goliath in David’s hand was a self portrait of the artist. Dr. S said no one had ever figured out his favorite painting before. Hard to believe now, but this was pre-Google days. I’m pretty sure most of his students didn’t give a shit about art.
When I revealed his favorite artist and painting and gave a brief history, he kind of patted me on the shoulder and said, “You’re going to do alright, kid.”