The unavoidable truth of everyday life in a hospital is that no one woke up this morning thinking this might be it. No one came to the conclusion that last night might have been their last chance to say goodnight or I love you.
One of my attendings told me the other day that as a med student you have a front row seat to life. You get to witness it all. The good, the bad, the ugly. We have lots of time to just talk with our patients and really get to know them; make them feel heard. While I think that statement is true, I was filled with this profound sadness that while I do witness life from beginning to end in a matter of one day within the walls of the hospital, I feel too many people take life for granted. Too many people come in with regrets. So much so, it makes me wonder. What are my regrets if tonight was my last? I think being surrounded by death and dying so much as a medical student makes you think about your own mortality more than the average person because there’s a patient who is exactly you. Same age, probably enjoys the same things, is a daughter, brother, mother, son, cousin to someone out there. This person just had met with fate a little sooner than me, but there’s no reason that couldn’t be me laying in that hospital bed. As I sit here freaking out about another denied rotation request and getting locked out of our school’s intranet because I can’t remember the billion different passwords we have to have, I ask myself do I have regrets? I feel like for a medical student, that is a difficult question. As a medical student, you don’t have control over your life really. You’re at the mercy of the schedule your resident or attending holds. You don’t get time off, vacation days, personal days. You have to have it approved by the school, but there is a pretty short list of reasons why you can get time off. Nana’s 90th birthday doesn’t quite make the cut. You are also only allotted so many days. So if you have to travel for an event it’s most likely a no go. I mean I get the reason behind it. You wouldn’t want a doctor who skipped out on 2 weeks of a rotation every other month, but it makes being human, being a part of something more than yourself difficult. Unfortunately, every medical student and resident understands what I’m talking about. We have all had that conversation with our mom and grandpa that no I can’t come home for Easter or Uncle Tom’s birthday because I’m on call. And time and time again they don’t quite understand why not. Do I regret the choices I’ve made to get me here? Never. Do I question if it’s all worth it? From time to time, but I think that’s more because I have come to realize how precious life is and how little control we all really have. The path to bring a doctor is one of extreme delayed gratification. You are plucked from life as most of society knows it into a setting of organized chaos where you have to lean on each other otherwise you won’t survive. You take on $300-500,000 in debt (I looked a couple weeks ago, I have almost $300,000 in student loans and two more years to go) and say goodbye to your family for 7-12 years. It’s a weird place to be in. It’s difficult to see the light sometimes, but yeah it’s worth it. This process had made me realize the power of a simple gesture. Patients in the hospital have helped me realize that. Even though I’m out here by myself (well me and my cat Rosco), I make an effort to remind those near and dear to my heart how much I love them. How sorry I am that I can’t be there for everything. How I think about them all the time. Because if I were to leave this world tomorrow, I don’t want to have regrets. I may be bummed that I’ve never left this country, but I would regret knowing that I hadn’t done what I could to make someone feel loved and important in this world. In the end, everything boils down to love for me. I got this tattoo a couple months ago to remind me every day of those I love and those that love me. It reminds me to be compasionate even to those who don’t seem to deserve it. It reminds me that life is too short to not love as much as you can.
So, to all my friends and family who might be reading this, know that you are always on my mind, every time I look at my tattoo and every time I leave a patient room. I love you and miss you like crazy. I’m sorry we haven’t Skyped or talked as much as you’d like. I’m sorry that I didn’t make out to holidays, but know that I do think about you all the time. My one request is to carpe diem. I know it’s so cliched, but I truly wish that you go to bed each night without regrets.