With college graduation nearing this spring, I’ve gotten many questions as to why I’ve chosen a career in medicine. Four years ago, if asked, I would have brought up the near-death experience I had while harvesting sap in my family’s farm in rural Thailand when I was five. Now, I find myself fighting back tears, struggling to compose a response. All that comes to mind is a Murakami quote that has stuck with me: “What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”
Through shadowing and volunteering, I’ve witnessed strangers in their most vulnerable moments. Listening to other people’s stories and seeing their eyes widen as they re-live their experiences is a wonderful and privileged gift. Being in a room with a person who has just received a bad prognosis, I’ve felt that raw, visceral feeling of humanity that unites us all. Holding a patient’s hand before anesthesia, providing a presence under the room’s alien fluorescence, I’ve acknowledged my fear of mortality.
I’ve carried these experiences and stories with me as I incorporated the hospital more into my life. I invested my nights scribing in the emergency department because I wanted more exposure to real medicine: the trauma, not the romanticized idea of hospital life. Quite honestly, what I observed were tears, blood, and silence.
Work at the hospital and school consumed me. I set aside time for individuals I deeply care for, and cherish those who understand that this was the busy routine I have chosen. But there was never enough time. My personal relationships suffered due to my time commitment. Recently, I’ve lost a chunk of my support system because people don’t understand why I feel the need to put so many hours toward my goals and preparing for medical school.
Yes, it hurts. I’ve learned the harsh truth that anyone, no matter how close, can question your passion and not understand the commitment it takes to become a physician. Like a bodily disease, negative comments can infiltrate your quality of life and make you wonder if you can continue on this path. The tears are real, the silence haunting, my pulse more audible to me. I have never felt more vulnerable. I am my own patient now. I know that I need to practice self-care and to set aside time for family, friends, and relaxation to overcome this.
I should be working tonight, but I scheduled the night off to look after myself. I’m realizing that I must have opened my heart in order to feel this pain, which reminds me why I choose this field in the first place. It has also brought to light unexpected individuals who do understand me, and have helped me grow as a person.
Most importantly, I’ve spent time being introspective, mapping out what I’ve done and what I would have done differently if given the chance. Should I have slowed my pace, settled for fewer hours volunteering? After all I’ve done, I feel confident that I still would have followed this path. I still have true support and an unfaltering presence in my personal life—through bumps and all. That is very reassuring.
Come graduation, come my third year as a medical student, my first day as a resident, if you ask me why I chose a career in medicine the answer will be fluid, but centralized around one key reason: to support and be able to share the burden of a fellow individual’s humanity. In the words of Streetlight, a wonderful palliative care program I have come to love, “we get to carry each other”.
About Kelena Klippel
Kelena Klippel is an English major at the University of Florida, originally from Beverly Hills, Florida. She serves as 24/7 on-call Disaster Action Team member for the Gainesville chapter of the American Red Cross as well as a volunteer with Streetlight, a palliative care program centralized to support adolescents. The first in her family to pursue a university degree in America, she hopes to become a facilitator of educating and fixing social justice and disparity issues in healthcare once becoming a physician. In her down time, Kelena writes poetry that has been featured in many Gainesville publications. She graduates in Spring 2017.