At 12pm EST today, the National Residency Matching Program revealed partial results of the 2013 residency match. The supercomputer freak in charge of matching applicants to residency positions had been huffing and puffing since February 20. Today it took one last epic breath and simultaneously spit out thousands of emails to sweaty-palmed medical students announcing whether they had matched to a residency training position. Matched where? Nowhere just yet. Stay tuned for the big reveal this Friday at noon.
I wasn’t necessarily worried about whether I would match match, a sentiment fueled by cockiness/delusion/pride/denial. Until this morning. I was online most of the morning, eyeing the clock, trying to compose the appropriate Spotify playlist to soothe my nerves. I didn’t stare at my Gmail page, but kept it open as a tab to be able to see new emails popping up. 11:58. An email. Too early, I thought, too early. I believe in honoring the solemnity of the moment (just whether I’d get to actually be a doctor – that i solemn alright), so I waited. 11:59. I found myself sitting up really straight in my chair. I surveyed my desk, an oversized glass-top dining table I purchased at the start of medical school. I broke a corner of it once, but the folks at the glass shop were able to trim a few inches off that edge and reattach the leg fixtures. Like new, except that there is a soft indent along the new edge where the cutting must have gone askew. My desk has a scar; it survived medical school. On my desk, a picture of my dad. A picture of myself at my college graduation, 9 years ago. A recent fancy professional portrait, taken for residency applications. A picture of my brother, age 3, and myself, age 5, in our Sunday’s best. 12:00. I looked at the email. It wasn’t from the NRMP. Back to Spotify. 12:01. Another email. I knew it was the one; it had to be. I looked at the picture of my dad again, then at my brother and I. How glad I was to have this moment all to myself and yet how much I longed for a hug, a hand on my shoulder, a shared quiet understanding. I hovered over to the Gmail tab, thinking I’d confirm the sender first, take a deep breath, then open the email. The email content was so short that the big news was revealed in the one liner preview and I didn’t need to actually open the email. Relief, elation, and one cosmic reality check. I am going to be a doctor.
Holy Batman. I am going to be a doctor. The thought is exhilarating and terrifying. The feeling is impossible to describe. Last night I struggled to do so to a new friend. How do you explain the matching process to someone outside of medicine? How do you explain the magnitude of the prospect of being responsible for someone’s health? How do you explain that yes, you’ve been working on this your entire life, and yes you’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since you were 13 years old and read Dominique Lapierre’s Beyond Love and Erich Segal’s Doctors, but now you’re 18 years older and you’ve discovered a passion for theater and writing and you’re just not quite sure as you used to be? You can’t explain.
Thankfully, there are books to help explain the unexplainable. On Saturday I picked up John Greene’s The Fault In Our Stars at dear M’s insistence. “It’s about cancer. And teenagers. I mean, it’s awesome.” I laughed. There’s nothing awesome about cancer, but I knew that she meant it would tug at me the way it tugs at all in the pediatric oncology realm (my subspecialty field of interest). I started the book right away. On Sunday morning, I picked it up again and read >200 pages straight to the end. No tea break. No pee break. Plenty of smiles and a few frank bouts of laughter. Also tears, snot, and ugly sobbing. I don’t want to say anything about the book. The story and its colorful set of flawed characters are incredibly compelling. Even more compelling is the tale of unconditional love that soaks every page. It is raw and intimate, universal and devastating. It hurts and soothes all at the same time.
I am often greeted with furrowed brows, or looks of pity when I say I want to work in pediatric oncology. “Are you depressed? Do you have a death wish? God, I could never do it.” Well that’s it just it. You could never do it. But just because it’s not for you and the thought of sick children scares you, it has nothing to do with me. Of course it is sad and heartbreaking and frustrating and depressing. But it is also full of hope and tender moments and incredible acts of love and courage and I want to be part of that. I want to feel all of that. So yes, I am freaking out about being a doctor, about parents trusting me implicitly with their children, about having to make tough decisions and knowing that I will make mistakes. But then I read a book like The Fault In Our Stars, and I am reminded of why I want to be a doctor and I can’t wait to get started.
“Sometimes, it seems the universe wants to be noticed. That’s what I believe. I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it – or my observation of it – is temporary?” (The Fault In Our Stars)
The Universe is one elegant bastard, even when it scares the living daylights out of us. It is in that moment of blinding fear that we are most aware of its graceful permanence.