Off the Shelf
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These busy medical students, of which I am one,
are preparing for a road trip,
stuffing our cars full of everything we might ever conceivably need:
Metaphorical band aids, jumper cables, flashlights, emergency blankets,
complicated little screwdrivers that fit only one type of screw;
Screws that we’ll probably never see.

Our packing list is absurdly long, but we simply don’t have a choice.
Everything must fit.

However, I am standing back for a moment, gazing at my half-filled car
and everything else that still needs to be packed.
I am wondering: Is there even room for a driver?
Can my suspension handle the weight?
And, has anyone even thought about where we are going?

With all the packing to do, not much time is left for these basic questions.

But I’ve driven before,
talked to lots of different people;
and the overwhelming needs I’ve seen are not for obscure, rarely-used screwdrivers.

The roads we will be driving on are uneven, and they only go to certain towns,
Only some people have cars;
others have to walk, or stay put.

And we’re not really talking about why that is, at least not as a whole, we’re not.

If we did, we might have to rethink the Packing List.
We might even have to rethink the whole individual car thing.

Some seem to accept that their role is just to pack,
drive where the road takes them,
and use the tools as we have been taught.

That is, leave the roads to the road-folks.

Most of us assume the roads were built the way they are for good reasons;
If there’s no road, the people there must not have wanted one;
If the road is rough, the people there must not drive much.

Obviously, the places with well-paved roads, clearly marked signs, and plentiful lighting are where we are meant to go.

In short, most of us don’t see the roads as our responsibility.

For now, we’re busy cramming things into our individual cars;
they won’t let us drive otherwise,
and some of this stuff has got to come in handy…right?

But what if instead of that giant case of rare screwdrivers,
we packed manuals on road construction?

What if we left room in the passenger seat,
learned to communicate with the folks off the well-paved way?

What if we saw it as our collective responsibility to think about the roads?

Because in fact, it is people who built the roads and people who control them.
The well-paved, well-lit way is where the folks who live there would like us to go.

But I have been out walking, and I have heard voices.
Voices I know you can hear, too.
They are saying that their roads have been destroyed.
Tools and supplies have been promised but never delivered.
And they are asking, shouting, for us to pull over.

I know we all have things to be packing.
But please don’t forget to think about the roads.
Because they are defining where we will go,
who we will see,
and who we will not.

Jesse Paulsen Jesse Paulsen (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Washington School of Medicine

I am a second year medical student at the University of Washington in Seattle. I am 29 years old and majored in Theatre as an undergrad. Sometimes I write and/or draw to keep myself sane in medical school.