I have a confession to make. Four years ago, I was calling you the “Pod People,” because I felt so traumatized by the behavior of other doctors. When I quit practicing medicine around that time, I wanted to have nothing to do with doctors. I called myself a “recovering physician” and pretty much avoided doctors like the plague. I came to think of you as a bunch of arrogant, mean-spirited, grumpy, soulless people bent on keeping me in a box and clipping my wings.
But I have mellowed out. After two years of full-time writing and painting, I learned that you can quit your job, but you don’t quit your calling. I am now practicing medicine, but on my terms, in a way that feels completely authentic to who I am. The post-traumatic stress of my medical training is healing, and my heart is cracked wide open. Which puts me in a good place to write this love letter. So forgive me for calling you the “Pod People,” and know that I am on your side. Really.
Why I Love You
Now that I’m not so tired, I realize how much I truly love you. I love you for making the sacrifices you’ve made, for putting the needs of others before the needs of yourself, for dropping everything to come running when someone cries for help. I love you for skipping keg parties to study for organic chemistry, for enduring sleepless nights and countless indignities in the name of learning, for tolerating angry teachers and stressed out colleagues. I love you for surviving law suits with your head held high, for not letting the insurance turkeys get your down, for dealing with complications that occurred on your watch and never forgetting that you did the best you could and that nobody is perfect. Most of all, I love you for following your passion, for clinging to the authentic core of who you are deep within, for serving your life purpose and doing it with integrity and courage.
I know that we all went to medical school for the right reasons. We felt called to serve, usually from a very young age. After I quit my job, I convinced myself that going to medical school had been a mistake, that the only reason I did it was because Dad was a doctor, and I wasn’t brave enough to go to art school. But then I took a workshop with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, and she invited us to think back to the first time we realized that the life of another living thing mattered. It could be an animal, a person — a bug, even.
She asked us to raise our hands based on how old we were. Older than 25? 20-25?
15-20? 10-15? Less than 10? As you can imagine, almost everybody in the room raised their hands when she said “Less than 10,” myself included.
I was seven. A chimney sweep was cleaning our chimney and found a nest of baby squirrels without a mother. I begged my parents to take me to the veterinarian so I could learn how to be the mommy these squirrels didn’t have. I learned to feed them dog’s milk with an eye dropper and wipe their little genitals so they would pee. I set my alarm to get up at night and feed them, and I carried them with me to school in a backpack. Over the next 15 years, I went on to raise about 20 squirrels. They called me the squirrel girl, and I loved those squirrels like a mother.
I cried when I realized this. Going to medical school had nothing to do with my father. It just gave me the tools to do what I had been doing since I was seven, tending the sick, wounded, and vulnerable.
Rachel says this trait is unique to us doctors. She says she tried doing this same thing in front of a group of law students, but when she asked them how old they were when they realized that the life of another living being mattered, nobody raised their hands — ever. Standing right next to her was the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, who leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Rachel, try justice.” And Rachel posed the question, “How old were you when you discovered that the world was unjust?” The lawyers had the same breakdown we did. They too were called young, but in a different way than we are.