Looking in the mirror, a different person peers out at me — a stranger even. This stranger has bags under his eyes and a permanently exhausted look. This man seems a little haggard, unshaven and scruffy. Gray hairs scatter themselves around a 25-year-old head, but what most makes him look different are his eyes. My eyes used to be open — windows to my soul and flung open to the world. His now are shuttered with just a hint of sunshine and clouds peeking through. The eyes of the person in my mirror are old — burdened with knowledge, a witness to death, misery and despair.
Those eyes recall clearly the drudgery of basic sciences, delving deep into books that detailed the arcane trivia of biochemistry, neuroanatomy, the Krebs Cycle and the cardiac stroke cycle. I still feel the tinge of the fear I felt as a first-year med student: fear that I wasn’t good enough, terror that I was the idiot in the class, agony that if I didn’t learn this material some nameless, faceless patient of mine in the future would suffer and die. I remember the naiveté with which I approached the hospital, my pre-clinical mind excited that I would learn — and my disappointment at being clueless.
The bags under the eyes worsened during the long hours of surgery call my third year, darkened as I cursed when my pager went off and sent me running to perform a rectal exam on trauma. Those eyes gained wisdom on the medicine wards seeing patients and learning a ton, but left each day with more exhaustion etched into them.
Those eyes hardened while watching patients die under my hands as I violently broke their ribs attempting CPR. They softened and smiled when I delivered a baby, pulling forth a life and putting it onto a mother’s chest as its parents gazed at it with adoration. They teared and blinked them away when I told a patient that they were going to die, and softened in love as I met the woman I love along the way of medical school. Those eyes smile still, the way they did years and decades ago when they see my family, and eagerly read each handwritten letter my grandfather and I exchange.
Those eyes retain some of the best things I had years ago — hope, optimism and faith in the essential goodness of most people — diminished though they may be. What I can hope for is that somehow I’ll one day look in the mirror and find that my eyes are a perfect blend of who I was, who medicine made me, and who I want to be.
The Fourth-Year Faux-cisian deals with the trenches of medicine, the dirty details and the inglorious scut, as well as with the sublime and transcendent moments. The posts I write are about medicine, humanism, life, philosophy, and most of all the ruminations of a young doctor-to-be as he embarks upon the transformative journey of becoming a physician while attempting to hold onto his humanity.