Chapter 2: You’re a Doctor
October 19, 2007
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” –Romans 12:2
Senior year has been flying by and I can’t believe we’re already 2 months in. Things are more hectic than I expected and I’m concerned about how burnt out I already feel. It’s just been a lot to juggle–trying to lead a Christian fellowship while staying focused on classes, still trying to make time for research, and maintaining a long-distance relationship with Tiff. Seems like everyone is hustling to sort out what the next steps are. Duke’s student body has always immersed itself in this undercurrent of pre-professional ambitions, but it seems like the dam finally burst open and we’re being swept out to those horizons and destinations you always hear about in graduation speeches. Maybe some overlooked the present a bit while relentlessly prepping for the future. Or maybe we see the horizon approaching, and despite all the positioning and the planning, nobody’s ever really ready. Time sails on, regardless.
I have friends interviewing for med school, law school, pharm school–consulting jobs, banking jobs, engineering jobs. Jobs in far away places. It’s all very exciting, except it’s quietly terrifying. I can’t believe our adult paths are beginning to resolve–that all of our little fates will start to differentiate over the next year. It’s crazy to think about all the work that goes into clearing some small path to success that you think will be special, but honestly, you don’t really know. And once you make whatever choice you make, you set a course down a path separate from the millions of other paths that you did not choose. I feel like I should be more excited… but I can’t help but wonder where this all goes.
October 20, 2007
21: What are you doing here?
31: Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s kind of a long and weird-ass story, and I’ve worked up some hypotheses–but, uh, short answer is I have no fucking clue. Unfortunately, I’m probably gonna need you to put on some pants so we can figure this one out together. You’re gonna have a lot of questions–I did when it happened to me–except lucky you, I might actually stick around to answer some of them.
21: [Puts on sweatpants] Wait… are you trying to say you’re from the future? Like they invent time travel and you… you just decided to drop in?
31: Hey man, you really shouldn’t wear those sweatpants out. I mean, they’re still in my closet, and they’re great for PJs or whatever, but, uh–some constructive feedback–you look like a scrub.
21: Chill out. I’m not really trying to impress anyone. Also, guess I should’ve known that my future was gonna come back and be all judgmental, yeah?
31: Alright, fair enough. You do you–just know there’s room for improvement.
21: I got other things to worry about right now! Plus, you look stupid in that leather jacket. Like… like some Abercrombie Asian.
31: Damn, Twenty-one. You slept ‘til noon yet still managed to wake up on the shit side of bed. First off, Abercrombie is for the pre- and mid-pubescent, so right off the bat that is offensive. Second, they are pretty racist, so it’s doubly offensive–cuts me deep, you know?
21: Haha, are you really from the future, dude? Like… how old are you?
31: I know, it’s crazy, and I’m thirty-one. So I’m ten years older than you–and you’re me ten years ago. [Scratches chin, examines 21 closely] We don’t really age, huh?
21: [Laughs] If you put on some sweatpants you might pass for college.
31: Ha, yeah that’s right. But now you know the Asian genes are doing work, just don’t get complacent, you know what I mean?
21: Did you come here just to tell me to dress better and go to the gym?
31: [Laughs] Damn, Twenty-one! I’m more feisty than I remember, which is sort of annoying.
21: So seriously, why are you here? And how long are you staying?
31: Don’t worry, I didn’t travel through time just to sleep on your dirty-ass futon. Like I said, It’s complicated, and I don’t really know what the end goal is, but this older version of us visited me last week–well, my last week–and just said I really needed to come talk to you.
21: What? Like we’re in trouble or something?
31: No–well, maybe–I dunno. As far as I can tell, everything between you and me turns out pretty okay. But I think we shit the bed somewhere down the road–like, the Old-Man-Us seemed pretty torn up about it. He didn’t really give details, so, maybe we kill babies or something, I’m not sure. But, he said I had to talk to you like it’s our only hope.
21: That’s not really funny, dude. Are you getting into some crazy murder-y stuff? Because I thought I was going to med school.
31: No, man, I’m a doctor, quit freaking out. You make it. It was a bad joke, admittedly, but the point is that the Old-Man-Version of ourselves seemed pretty unhappy. And it was actually rather unsettling to see.
21: So wait. Rewind. This super future version of me… wanted the you future version of me… to talk to me… because??
31: Well, that’s exactly it. That’s all I know. But as far as I can tell we’re just different pages of the same book. You’re just not as far along and less evolved–no offense–but I need to help you be better or something so we can have a happy ending. Not like that, though, it came out funny.
21: But wait, so I become a doctor?
31: Yeah, but I don’t want to ruin any surprises. And I don’t think we need to change that part of the equation.
21: But that’s not fair! I feel like you need talk to me about what happens if we’re going to help each other figure out where things go wrong.
31: [Long pause] I didn’t anticipate how annoying it would be to listen to college me make a good point–but you make a good point.
21: So tell me what happens! What’s my future?
31: I dunno–what do you want to know? You kind of just bro out with the guys on the block. We keep in touch, it’s fun. Um–you take a gap year, do some things, go to med school, kick ass, grow up a bit, match into residency. And after that, residency does most of the ass-kicking, but you know, we throw down every now then when we can scrape together those pieces of our soul.
21: Holy crap. So I make it through med school, huh? What kind of doctor?
31: Ah, I can’t ruin it for you, man. I feel like going through it, figuring it out–it’s all part of the good stuff. You still gotta live your life. And there’s lots of good stuff to look forward to(!)– mixed in with some real shit. But I don’t want to be that time traveling version of ourselves who ruins the surprise.
21: Wait… so do you even like being a doctor? Is it as rough as everyone says?
31: Yeah, being a doctor is awesome. I mean, it’s way more work than you can, or probably even should, try to imagine. Waking up still feels like death–that part of us is never gonna change. But when you are working eighty, ninety, a hundred hours, there are times when closing your eyes literally tastes sweet. And there will be some good stretches where you crave sleep more than food, water, and sex–combined. Like there was this one week where I was getting slaughtered–I think I hit a hundred and twenty hours or something–and then at the end of the week I lost my car keys because someone stole my coat, so I ended up having to sleep on a dirty couch in the hospital until someone could pick me up the next day. Worst fucking week of my life. But you know how we were when we were swimming competitively, like during the “Christmas Training” hell weeks? Swimming 200 miles in two weeks isn’t good for you. But you dig deep and find out a bit what you’re made of. Really, we’re just masochists–pain is glory.
21: Are you serious? That just sounds… God awful. And we were sixteen or seventeen when we were swimming that kind of yardage! It’s not like I can do that now! Nor would I want to. And I definitely don’t wanna be working a hundred hours a week! I’m all for hard work, but don’t we need some balance? Like, how is this not the answer?
31: The answer to what?
21: Dude, the answer to why you say our life apparently sucks when we’re old or whatever! Do you seriously not see? Isn’t this like the fast track to being just like Dad? You’re not afraid of just becoming consumed by your job? Never making it home for dinner? Aren’t you afraid of burning out? [Pause] That’s not what I want. Hell, if that’s what being a doctor is, that’s not what I’m choosing.
31: Hey look, you’re right. All those concerns are things I’ve thought about–I still think about all the time. And to be fair, I probably told you more than you’re really ready to hear, so that’s my fault. But being a doctor–and training to be a doctor–is amazing. Not always, and not every moment, but you get to do and see things that nobody else gets to do. You get to meet people in places and moments of real need, and hopefully make a positive impact.
21: Hopefully? Is it really worth ruining our lives to hopefully make some positive impact?
31: Look, so I started out with the bad, but here’s some of the good. So a couple years ago–well, actually for you, years from now–you might find yourself working in a burn unit. You’ll be bone-tired, and there will be a night when you finally get home, and you’re putting your head down on your pillow for that sweet, thirst-quenching kind of sleep. And they’ll page you to come back into the hospital. Because there was a house fire and they pulled out a woman who’s really badly burned. So you’ll go in and get ready, and when she arrives you’ll quickly realize that it’s worse than initially reported–that her injuries aren’t survivable. So you’ll spend much of that night struggling to support this patient dying in your ICU while doing your best to reach a family member. You will finally get ahold of the daughter and understandably, she’s in total shock. And after a long conversation, you’ll see that the daughter is really struggling to process what is happening and is too scared to come in and see her mom. So then over the next day you’ll call and talk to the daughter multiple times and each time you try to arrange for her to come and pay her mom a last visit, she will say she is too busy. Or the traffic is too bad. Or that she just can’t handle it right now. And you’ll worry that she won’t make it in time. Until finally around 10 p.m. this next day she will decide she’s going to come in. So after finishing a day’s work, you will return to the hospital this second night. You’ll sit down in a quiet meeting room. Your charge nurse will be beside you. And you’ll meet this patient’s daughter face to face for the first time. And again, you will tell her that despite everyone’s best efforts, her mom is dying, except this time her eyes are meeting yours and you’re seeing the sadness and the pain. [Takes deep breath] You spend the next hour just listening to the daughter and learning about who this patient is. The things she loved. The life she lived. You learn about the relationship she had with her daughter–the good memories they shared, and the terrible struggles. And you will do your best to prepare this family member for the thing that no one can ever be prepared for–to walk up to the bedside of a loved one and be there when they die. [Pause] And then you’ll go visit this patient for one last time together. Because she ends up dying that night soon after you leave–but not before the daughter hugs you and thanks you on your way out.
21: [Silence]. I’m sorry. I guess I don’t really know what to say
31: It’s alright. All I’m saying is that you will get to decide–whether it’s worth it or not. I don’t know how this time travel thing works exactly and if you will choose the exact same things I chose. But I chose it, and it’s hard, and I still worry about all the things you worry about regarding family, and balance, and burnout–but you will also have these rare moments of clarity, these transformative experiences that reaffirm how small you as you travel through the enormity of life. And how special it is that by some cosmic accident you get to even live out any sort of existence, much less the privileged-ass one you’ve been blessed with. [Softly smiles] You know, not everyone gets to decide on the things that are worth ruining their lives over.
21: Dang… all this is really crazy to hear… but none of this makes it any easier. Aren’t you supposed to be helping to guide me to a better place or something? Like in the end, how do you know for sure? That it’s the right choice, I mean. How do you know that you don’t crash and burn, and get divorced, and become depressed, and like… when you’re old and full of regret you resort to some shady means of time travel to warn your younger self?
31: Ha, you never know for sure, man. No refunds, no guarantees–that’s just life. All I can say is that right now, no lives have been ruined in the making of this doctor. But admittedly, I’ve only just started to dabble in the thirties, and I have plenty of future decades to build up resentment towards my career or any of my potentially stupid life choices, you know?
21: [chuckles] Dude, why is life so complicated. Can’t you just tell me what to do?
31: It’s important to be reminded that life is bigger, though. And in some ways maybe you know this better than I do because of all the time you spend wallowing in angst, contemplating the meaning of the universe.
21: Haha, but we’ve always done that! What, do we stop living in our own head at some point?
31: No, I still do. Though you’ll find when you’re bone-tired, one of the nice things is your mind calms down a bit–like there’s this uncommon peace that accompanies exhaustion.
21: Yeah, I can see that. But dude, we really are masochists, huh?
31: Hey, I know I make fun of you for all your angst and idiocy, but having some insight into where you are going and why is important. And taking the gap year after graduation–all of that is important. Especially as you get older and get deeper into adult life–the real world–it’ll feel like the possibilities shrink. And it’s good to be reminded that life is bigger. The world will often reduce your existence to this system of social ladders, a structure to climb so that you can position yourself on some high-up rung–all just to suck the sweetest drops of ball sweat that drip down from some institution’s red, white, and blue ball sack. [Pause] And maybe it shouldn’t take time travel to be reminded that perhaps it should be more than that.
21: Well… that sounds depressing as hell. Now I really can’t tell if I should be happy or sad that I get into med school. And I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do, or what we’re supposed to change. I mean, if it’s not our career choice or whatever… like… um… how are things going with Tiff?
31: Hmm, I guess I anticipated you would ask. Let’s shelf that for next time. I gotta go before Sam gets back to the apartment and wonders what the hell is going on.
21: And what about your relationship with God? Do I find a good church community… like after I graduate?
31: [Smiles] We have a lot to talk about, huh? Guess that just means I’ll have to visit your insufferable ass more than once.
21: You know this is totally crazy.
21: Everything. Just you… being here.
31: Oh I know. I mean literally, I know everything you know–plus ten years of extra things that you don’t know. So yeah. I know.
21: [Rolls eyes] I hate you, dude. You’re such an ass.
31: Love you, too, man. Ooo–it’s kinda weird saying “love you” to your past self–I won’t do that again. But I’ll see you when I see you, Twenty-one. In the meantime, don’t do anything stupid.