In November, I hated medicine. The gray clouds that watched from the sky followed me day after day — to my car, into the hospital, to my car again, and back inside my home. At times the haze was tolerable; an inconvenience, a bother, but no real trouble. Other times, it was suffocating. There have been days before, I know, when I have had such a fog roll in. One day, maybe two, and the clouds would disperse again, sunlight spreading through the colloidal suspension of muggy vapor and scaring it away. No such luck in November. To be honest, it was not so much the clouds hanging around as the thought that the sun might never break through that shook me.
Back in July, the sun was bright every day. I felt like I was at home. I went to the hospital to learn and to heal. I remember walking to see my patients in the morning, fold-up clipboard in hand, and smiling. I was happy with where I was, how far I’d come, what I could still learn. I wanted to be there. There was so much to do, but I would do all of it. Most of all, though, I knew my teachers would shape me to be someone I wanted to be.
In December, I rested. I rested and I thought. It was as if to clear the air I had to process all of the gray clouds that had accumulated around me through my head. It was hard to make sense of all of the peaks and troughs of the past few months.
Now no matter, child, the name
Sorrow’s springs are the same
All sorrow has its heart in loss. What loss? What did I lose to feel such sorrow?
August and September took their toll on me slowly, insidiously. They showed me spite and malice where I thought warmth and love lived. At first I thought it was a mistake, but persistence told me otherwise. Now teachers espoused apathy and cruelty, isolation and hostility. I watched as they eagerly devoured each other. It was grotesque. I caught a glimpse behind too many masks. I wondered (but knew too well) what had sculpted the faces they kept so concealed. I was repulsed, nauseated. I did not want to come out so deformed. I flinched as I felt their chisel at my cheek, as they raised their hammer.
October was hell. There must have been a point where the trees turned and the colors flashed, but I missed it. Before I knew it the trees had emptied. Every step came with a crunch underfoot reminding me of the life that thrived before autumn came. I yearned for that life. Nights were long and cold. How strange it was to be lonely even when home and surrounded by love. Every day reminded me what malice looked like. I learned where to hide, how to lie. This must be, I think, when the clouds rolled in.
Why wake up if the sun won’t be there?
(I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Of course not, of course not.)
December helped a lot. Family and friends, warmth and kindness. If there’s anything I can do, if there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate, just let me know, I’ll be in touch. I started to understand what had happened — what I lost, where the sorrow came from. A broken promise.
The promise that medicine was this beautiful art that healed people, that it was practiced by the wise and compassionate, that we’re all in this together, that healers are helpers, and so on. Autumn broke that promise for me — a promise I made to myself, or that someone once made to me. No matter — a broken promise is a broken promise.
It is April and the sun is out. Sometimes the sunlight is harsh, but it is invigorating. Now the days are long — some days, I know, are longer than October’s nights. But they are not nearly as draining. I can be alone without being suffocated. There is no stormy veil surrounding me. I can breathe.
Back when the new year came around, I had resolved myself to emerge from the refuge I had sought and tread again into the world. The air was chilly, and I wrapped myself in sweaters. I greeted new teachers with reluctance; I kept my distance. To trust is to expose yourself, and my wounds were still raw. I came to expect the cold by now, so I tested the waters slowly, carefully, one toe outstretched. Not so frigid as I thought. At the very least, there was authenticity; no masks, no faces beneath faces. Perhaps even compassion. As time passed I felt like I could once more settle in my skin. The weather warmed, and I peeled off the sweaters in which I had covered myself. A weight off my chest. I took a full breath of air at last, driving out the dust that must have settled in the corners of my lungs.
In March, I know I was still afraid. I had seen two sides of medicine and wasn’t sure which was the exception and which was the rule. The truth is that I still don’t know. I went back to the hospital, and I was greeted with warmth and compassion. Unity, teamwork, learning, growing. Perhaps this was a stroke of good luck, and around some corner or another I would once more find myself surrounded by masks and chisels. But I am willing to hazard that this was no fluke. This was how things ought to be — crops must be cultivated, after all. Seeds on barren soil merely fester; it takes water and sunlight and warmth to grow.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly what October was like. To be frank, I am fine with this. I remember enough.
April comes to a close. I think by now I have found at the very least a small truth — that all is not autumn. There are still those that are malignant to be sure. But even if I am surrounded by them, it will pass — just as the seasons.
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
I will acclimate. I am not defined by any one season. A long winter can seem unbearable, but there is spring on the other side of it, and that is always worth waking up for. There are the wise and compassionate, the helpers and healers. When I am allowed the freedom, I know what company and climate I will choose. And I will be the physician I know I want to be.