Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Absentia

We received bad news last evening. One of my classmates -- not mine, exactly, but one from the next graduating class down -- was killed in a traffic accident while traveling abroad. I'm certain I knew her, but I don't think we ever met. It's hard enough being familiar with 125 members of your own class much less the same number in another. Some become your closest friends and some you never really know at all.

She was young and had just begun living the dream of a lifetime on this little peninsula on the coast of Maine. She lived off campus (we have no medical student housing on campus), and drove to school every day down a long road lined with trees and classic New England homes. The same route I take. The same one we all take.

She had just completed her first year. What was that like? As a member of a team of four she dissected a human cadaver, learned the basics of physiology, immunology, biochemistry, and pharmacology. She'd learned the essential points of medical legality, spent hours gazing into a microscope, memorized dozens of bacteria and the diseases they produce, and practiced the techniques of physical examination. She may have been involved in clubs and participated in some of the silly things we do to relieve stress like playing Assassin (whoever you hit with a sock, gets eliminated). She learned to handle the stress of day-long examinations.

The first year is about what "normal" looks like and the second, about abnormal. One more week and she would begin tracing the pathways of nerves to the brain. She might write emails home about Aunt Susie's stroke or her brother's concussion. Her parents would read them, look at one another and say with a smile, "It's worth every penny."

As a minister and therapist, I get asked for explanations, why now, why her? The truth is, there are no reasons so persuasive, so transcendent, so ultimately satisfying, they can make up for what we're experiencing. And even if there were, they still wouldn't erase what has happened or take away our grief. So, instead of explanations, we find hope in the company of family and friends. She was one of us, she is one of us, and among those who share her dream, she will always have the title we all seek and cherish: colleague.

This post is in her memory and dedicated to those whom she loved.
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