Sunday, October 25, 2015

A mystery to be lived

"Life is not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived."  Soeren Kirkegaard

It's been a little over 10 months since I've written anything on this blog.  I've been a little busy.  I finished the classroom part of my PA program and have just completed my first rotation.  I was at a bariatric surgery clinic.  In four weeks I participated in ~40 surgeries, rounded on patients in the hospital post-op and saw other patients in the clinic.  Surgery was fascinating to me.  The OR is full of seemingly arbitrary rules, mysterious looking instruments, and the tension of thinking "what if this person woke up right now?"

Clinic was great too - seeing people come for follow-up appointments years after surgery - many of them thanking the surgeon for saving their lives.  I even thought rounding on patients recovering from surgery was fun.  Getting to know patients over the 3-5 days post-op - being allowed to participate in what is a very vulnerable and difficult time for many people.  It is truly a privilege.

I heard the above quote for the first time a few weeks ago and it seemed to ring true to me.  It might sound as though it is a rather "c'est la vie" attitude - but I don't think that's where it comes from.  It's about creating space in our lives.  The quote gets down to why sports, religion, art, music, theater, and movies are so important to keeping us sane.  These things all focus on experiencing the mystery of life - and take us away from our problems and stresses. 

How I would interpret Kirkegaard is that he's saying so much of our lives are completely out of our control.  Where we were born, who our parents are, our genetics, the people who come in and out of our lives - most of these things are up to fate.  I'm not suggesting that we have no responsibility to make our lives what we want them to be - but, too often we get fixated on a preconceived idea of what our lives should be - and we get blinded to what the world is offering us.

I've learned that medicine is also about shaking off disappointment and failure - to search out what you're good at - and grab it by the horns once you've figure it out.  I'm far from finished with that process, but I feel closer to figuring out what I can do that makes me happy everyday than at any other point in my life.

The older I get the more I'm convinced that life is about experiences.  It's about connecting with other people - it's about sharing your story and hearing theirs'.   We many times try to manipulate others into helping us solve our problems.  If you listen to people closely enough you'll find that usually they can't solve your problems the way you initially expected - but that their perspective changes how you view your problems in a way that can make the problems seem to vanish.

By connecting with others we are able to come to a more objective place - a place where our problems don't seem so personal or immediate.  We see them as ethereal and temporary - as is everything in this world.  And from that perspective we're actually better able to deal with them.  If we focus on battling them alone - like Dali's St. Anthony - we actually make ourselves more vulnerable.  We don't have to engage every possible existential threat - sometimes we can merely watch them march on past.

The best example of this happening in my life right now is a knee injury that may be nothing - or it might be the beginning of something bad.  I won't bore you with the exact symptoms - basically it boils down to one of those things that is uncomfortable when I'm running - but doesn't stop me from running.  Maybe it's a meniscus or a patellar tendon that isn't tracking right or a tweaky ligament.  Whatever it is there is definitely a voice in the back of my head saying "maybe this is the big one - maybe all those miles have finally caught up with you and you'll never feel good running again." 

I've seen it happen to more than one running buddy of mine.  But, I'm also at the beginning of a new career, a new adventure.  An adventure that will probably mean as much to me as anything that's happened in my life up to this point.  That's how much I enjoy taking care of patients.

So, maybe this is the end of competing as seriously as I used to - or maybe the knee thing will go away, I'll find a cushy clinic gig and qualify for Kona : )  Who knows.  But whatever happens - I'll try take Kirkegaard's quote to heart and live it more than I try to solve it.