Sunday, April 18, 2010

Medical School: Becoming a Family

Popeye and OliveOyl

For years, breakfast around my house was a hasty affair. While living in Boulder and driving to work in Denver, it was reduced to a sandwich on the highway. Lately, however, I've gotten back into a rhythm of taking a few minutes to cook hash browns and egg beaters and eat calmly. As a result, some interesting thoughts surface when I least expect them.

Take this morning, for instance. I was thinking about graduation for my entering class on May 22 (hope I got that right), and felt a sense of abandonment that surprised me. I guess I've been holding it at arm's length, as I typically do with such things. Anyhow, it must have crawled right up my sleeve, because there it was, perched on my shoulder like a pirate's parrot and whispering in my ear. "Your class is moving on and you're going to face the next two years alone."

Now, this is not at all true, strictly speaking, and I tried to be understanding. After all, it's the nature of fear to take on unrealistic proportions, so it wasn't being wicked or mean, it was just being itself. My job, at times like this, is to point out the distortions in order to restore some inner balance. And that's when I thought about Popeye.

Not Popeye the Sailor Man of cartoon and movie fame (Robin Williams, 1980), but Robert "Popeye" Wynn from Band of Brothers. If you're familiar with the HBO series or have read Stephen Ambrose' book, you know Popeye was wounded on June 6, 1944. Shipped back to England for surgery and recovery, he went AWOL and left the hospital before his wound was completely healed, in order to rejoin his unit.

A recurring theme in Band of Brothers is the intense connection formed by the men of Easy Company, particularly those who went through basic training together. In several blog posts I've tried, similarly, to conceptualize the relationship we established as members of an incoming medical school class. I keep coming back to it because the reasons remain elusive.

For me, these 125 persons represent the context in which my dream of becoming a doctor first began to be realized. They are my witnesses and when the demands are great and the obstacles huge, they remind me of the truth: I'm going to make it. In some indefinable way, what we've created transcends friendship and I really don't know how we did it. You can't predict the way genes will combine during the crossing-over phase of meiosis and what happened with us may not have been something anyone could have predicted either. We were just the right people at the right time in the right circumstances who, like the men of Easy Company, became sisters and brothers -- a family -- without even knowing it.

(Creative Commons image of Popeye and Oliveoyl by norwichnuts via Flickr)
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