I think ultimately what everything I want to do boils down to, and what really makes me happy, is giving others the power of hope. What I want to do in life is to give people hope, to inspire people, and to bring joy to their lives.
Being a doctor is one way to accomplish this. As a doctor, one wields great power and responsibility. Word choice is crucial – one word or phrase can bring devastation to an entire family, and another can bring great relief. But even outside a diagnosis, the little things can really go a long way. Today I ran the gamut with one patient with pancreatic cancer, who, based on how things are going, likely does not have long to live. The attending and the team all feel that way, and based on how malnourished he is, it doesn’t look good. Yet today, when he asked “I still have a long time left to live right?” and I said “I don’t know” (meaning literally, I’m not sure because I’m a medical student and I’m not an expert so I don’t want to give you the wrong information), his eyes grew very wide in a mixture of terror, disbelief, and disconcertment. I immediately had to explain the above, that I meant I literally did not know because of my position and that I didn’t want to say anything that was wrong. It was not until I assured him that regardless, he certainly was not going to die today or at this hospitalization that his features relaxed and he even gave a little bit of a smile. I realized then, more than ever before, that an “I don’t know” from a doctor, or someone perceived in that position, is extremely weighty, and can cause extreme distress for patients… and at the same time, I realized that reassurance can offer comfort and hope. When I updated him and his family later on our plan, and with the good news that we could have him trial some liquids a bit today, he smiled for the second time. His daughters all obviously love him very much, and they seem to have a good family, which was heartwarming to see. (Contrast that with another patient we had who was extremely belligerent and had over the course of his life alienated his whole family, yet somehow still had a girlfriend and daughter seeing him, but they obviously were at the end of their rope and upset at the hurtful things he was saying (which, to be fair, he had brain mets too and was halfway through radiation so that probably played a part in it)… but yeah… there’s just so many different dynamics and levels of hurt with relationships). But anyway, though his prospects are likely grim and he was not feeling well, being able to elicit a smile twice today on his normally grim and defeated-looking face made my day.
I’m sure there have to be some studies out there already on the power of hope, but it would be interesting to have a study of outcomes for people who are taking the regular medical route (i.e. chemo/rad for cancer, matched for age, cancer type/stage, etc) vs. people who just get (an) additional session(s) of positive therapy/counseling. I would wager that people would live longer or heal faster in the latter group. In fact, the placebo effect is probably an extension/manifestation of this phenomenon. Giving people hope in some way, shape, or fashion can pull people out of devastating things. So maybe that’s really the answer to a lot of things. Dr. K, who we diagnosed with a much more treatable cancer than she thought coming in turned around with all smiles when she was readmitted (whereas she was very irritable to most of the other members of the team most of the time when she was on our service), and seemed to respond well to the chemo later on based on her charts. She said “so there is hope?” and when assured by our attending that the treatment was very good for that type of cancer, she smiled the widest smile i’d seen from her, and thanked us profusely (for her).
There are of course, other ways to instill hope in people, and that’s where all my other desires ultimately stem from. The desire to play music, to act, dance, write. Yes of course a large part is that I enjoy these things and mostly, enjoy doing them with other people who I can share the pure enjoyment of it with. But the desire to create a youth orchestra so that others could experience what I did growing up, or to make gospel music, to act or direct or write stories that are uplifting and meaningful/touching to people, to dance and inspire/wow people – all of that is born out of a deep desire to connect to people’s hearts – to give them something that can take them out of any pain they are experiencing and bring them into the light.
as a side note, i think this is why i don’t understand how my sister thinks very much at all. for a long time now, she’s had this odd complex where she simultaneously thinks she’s better and worse than everyone else, and perhaps as a result, she seems to enjoy picking at people’s weak points, or pointing people’s flaws out to others to make fun of. It’s almost as if that’s the only way she knows how to interact with people and be “funny” and get “positive” attention. but what she doesn’t get is that that novelty wears off after a while, and really isn’t that funny anymore if you do it too often and hurt people too much. of course, i understand that this is her defense mechanism – something that i noticed developing in around her late middle to high school years that i warned my parents about to correct, but they never did (and now, of course, i realize that neither knew how or were capable of doing so effectively), and it’s kind of almost too late to correct by now unless her heart is changed from the inside out. i wish i could reach her, but i know she’s not in the right frame of mind to be receptive yet. but i hope someone can show her there is still hope as well.
Anyway, not a super lot of progress in terms of deciding future things, but it’s nice to finally find a unifying theme for myself. i mean, to some extent i always knew i wanted to do good for the world, but what exactly that meant was a little bit more nebulous. but now i have a meter for which to assess how i’m doing in terms of trying to achieve my goal: is what i am doing actually giving people hope or taking it away? and it’s also a measure for how to live my life in a Christian way – am i brightening up the lives of those around me, or am i bringing people down/starting to get sucked into worldly views and complaints?
another side note: it’s also been kind of helpful that the message i’ve been getting a lot over the last couple days is that it will be ok. whatever i end up choosing, and whatever path i end up going, it will not be a wrong choice, and i will be able to bless people and glorify God no matter which way i go. today, i talked with one of our deans and he seemed to agree with my original plan – to at least apply this year and do a year, and if i need to re-evaluate at that time, that’s ok. it sounds like it’ll be easier to first get a foot in the door and explain that i needed to take a break for health reasons after, rather than to take a year off now. so praise God that that has been answered pretty definitively, so i will go full speed ahead with the application then and we’ll see where i end up! one step at a time. that’s all i can do for now.