raison d’être

“Why did you decide to be a doctor?” she asked. “And don’t tell me you wanted to help people.”

I was exhausted. I sat on the edge of Mandi’s bed. “It’s true,” I said. “I want to help people.”

“Ha!” She poked a mound of vanilla pudding with a fork. “That’s what they all say.”

–“A Fire, Deliberately Set,” Peggy Sarjeant

I was reminded of the long, 5,000-character essay I was required to write on why I decided to become a doctor. Superficially, it probably boiled down to that same clichéd declaration. “I want to help people.” But I really tried to get beyond that.

I’d always wanted to do something useful, something that mattered. … Simply put, I believed God had given me gifts that I was expected to use. Helping others through medicine had somehow become the obvious choice.

That is probably closer to what I wrote. But I read on, and I wondered if there wasn’t something more.

I finished the story of the pediatrician who learned she could never be distant and be a doctor at the same time. I finished the story of the resident, dealing with his first malpractice suit, realizing the detail he missed that could have saved a life. I finished the story of the med student dealing with her cadaver in anatomy lab, and on and on. Nineteen stories of becoming and being a physician; nineteen stories of what awaits me. Nineteen stories written by the doctors themselves.

As I read them, I felt something. It was the same feeling that drew me to take a poetry class in high school, that drew me to acting while in college. Each was an expression of the human condition; authors, poets, and playwrights, illuminating the drama of life, beckoning, engaging. I came to understand that what I was feeling was that connection, a belief that I had found the meaning of life, a notion long absent in a staid existence. It was stronger than before, knowing that these were not mere stories, but snapshots of autobiographies.

Maybe that feeling was the reason I was looking for.

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