Thinking back to my earliest memories, I was fascinated by and loved science. I. Loved. Science.
When I was little, maybe 4 or 5, we lived in a duplex in St. Paul. One day, the kid who lived upstairs decided to play with matches and started a fire that caused a lot of damage to the upstairs unit. The landlord was doing the repair work himself, with the help of his family and my dad. One day he was there working on the house, and I was playing on the sidewalk in front of the house. He was, I think, going next door for something when he just fell over dead into the hedge. I remember going to get the neighbor. I remember the fire department and medics coming to the house and working on him. I remember hearing later that he’d died.
What I don’t remember is being afraid or scared in any way. One of the things I think that stuck with me were those medics. Later, when I was about 8, I started watching Emergency! after school. At first, I wanted to be a paramedic. Later, I decided I wanted to be a doctor. My aunt gave me the book, The Making of a Surgeon, by William Nolen, MD, a doctor from Minnesota. I devoured it. He wrote 3 other books, and I devoured them, too. I went all through high school and into college wanting to be a surgeon. I took every science course I could get my hands on and did well in all of them. Anatomy and physiology were always easy As for me.
As most of you know, I’m not a surgeon today. I don’t even work in the medical field. What happened? Life. Just like everyone else. Thinking about it now, I don’t know why I didn’t pick a lesser path than being a physician while staying in the medical field. Or why I didn’t talk to someone about why I was having such a hard time with organic chemistry and algebra/calculus. I guess I thought that if I couldn’t understand them in high school, I’d never get them, so I had to walk away. A little arrogant in hindsight, but I also knew that some people were better at certain things than others, and I really was better at other things.
I desperately wanted to take college physics but was struggling so much with math that I felt I had to abandon that, too. Then again, there were only so many hours in a day, and so many credits you could take at a given time., and picking science back up just wouldn’t fit with all the rest of my classes and my jobs, etc.
So why did I keep repeating to my oncologist and surgeon that I had wanted to be a surgeon and was pre-med in school? Because I desperately wanted to be treated as an equal. When I walk this back, I remember when I was living in Houston, I had the same primary care doc for 10-12 years. When I had some concerns and needed a specialist, he’d give me a name. Usually, this would be someone in the insurance network, and someone I’d never heard of before. Then, he’d look at me and ask me if I wanted to know where he’d send his wife. I felt like this was how he’d treat a peer who asked for a referral. I wanted that with my oncologists and surgeon, and I subliminally knew that I needed to do something to create the kind of bond I had with my primary care doctor because I didn’t have the luxury of time to grow relationships with any of them. All of this grew out of the anxiety of being diagnosed with cancer.
I realized, just before my surgery, that this whole story about wanting to go to med school and then not even working in the medical field wasn’t doing me any favors. In fact, I realized it made me sound like an idiot. This wasn’t helped by actually being an idiot when it came to cell biology, organic chem and a few other things that I’ve tried reading up on lately and finding that I understand literally a dozen words in the article. That’s humbling.
So… I decided to own it. In my pre-surgery appointment, I finally told the surgeon and the resident who’d be scrubbing in on my surgery that I have found recently that I know nothing about anything having to do with biology anymore. That frankly, I’m an idiot anymore. She laughed and tried to tell me it was okay.