Note from the author:
Optimized for spoken language rather than written language, this piece is about the complex array of emotions that can accompany being in medical school during a time when I am experiencing personal challenges and when the state of healthcare in many parts of the country is deplorable. Medical research institutions choose to endlessly expand despite the consequences of doing so on neighboring communities which are oftentimes historically marginalized populations. I describe how unsettled I feel on an average school day and the mental process of getting to the root of my feelings. The pronouns I use in the last paragraph (One that Got Away, Lucky One, All-American Reject) are meant to reflect my identity crisis as a medical student who, in only a few years, will have to sign contracts of silence on these issues lest I paint my employer et al. in a negative light. The further along I am in my relationship with healthcare institutions, the greater my understanding of the systems, and the less I will be allowed to say for the sake of professionalism, a paradox that has trapped many. I do not know how to live a life of integrity within an unjust system, but I pray that I figure it out before decorating any dotted line with my name.
They say to treat this like a full-time job, but one that I have to pay for in capital, relationships and peace of mind. I cannot discern if this is a blessing, a curse, a test or an opportunity. I go there to watch, listen, practice, read, write, draw, dream about knowing more, daydream about doing less. It is a bright and sunny morning, but it could be summer or autumn or winter or spring. The brightness is almost blinding — please list the causes of blindness in the space provided — and as the sun penetrates through the glass barrier, its healing, rejuvenating properties are filtered out; instead, the sun acts as a spotlight exposing the dust settling on artificial leaves and artificial pleasantries left dangling when someone more exciting passes by. The air smells like glass. The air smells like wind carrying a sordid mixture of Chanel no. 5 and sweat: the scent of privilege and hard work. The air smells like wind whooshing through empty space and carrying with it sterility and professionalism almost as sterile as the professionals scurrying about; it reeks of hand sanitizer and dry cleaning starch. I am 22 years old going on 56 — the age of my physician mother when she was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. Was it worth it for her?
They told me during orientation, three times in fact, that my future spouse might be somewhere in this building, when he is actually waiting for me at home without a stethoscope and pager, but with a page-turning work of non-fiction — political philosophy, probably. The squeak of dry-erase markers on the walls — a sound more flesh-crawling than nails on a chalkboard — almost snaps me back to the present. As I escape the room, the smell of premeditated angst follows me and my nose tells my brain to tell my skin to protect itself with a shield of goosebumps. Or are those hives? I feel nothing and everything, but mostly I feel anger — anger towards foundations built to the detriment of those who provide the grounds to build, anger at the weak attempts to rebuild relationships with those they are meant to serve by turning them into servants. They call it research: the art of increasing our knowledge stock. I call it research: the art of decreasing the affordable housing stock. Or, re-search: making others search again for a home, sometimes used to explain the exile of entire communities to suburban blocks they cannot afford that require cars they do not have. I feel an overwhelming sense of confusion surrounding my role as yet another building block in this machine when I would prefer to be a stumbling block. At times I suspect I am a placeholder for a block more cooperative, less disruptive, more of this, less of that …
I know the value my skin, my sex, my story offers to the Architect, but I also know the consequence if I fail to fit perfectly into this mosaic. But maybe I’ll be the One that Got Away, maybe I’ll be the Lucky One. The Best Escape Artist of All Time. An All-American Reject.
I kind of like the sound of that.
Image credit: “ Cleveland Clinic Miniature“ by House Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Audio credit: Performed by Hannah Clarke.
Video credit: Recorded by Anna Swensen on October 12, 2022 at the Annual Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine Story Slam.