I would never have ended up here, debating just how difficult Dr. Mowshowitz’s class will really be, if I had not taken a peek into a rigid human cadaver. It was splayed on a cold metal bench in a room of a university building that has since been demolished, replaced by something glossier with central air conditioning and earthquake retrofitting. That auspicious afternoon, as the boy behind me moved slowly to the door before passing out, I realized I was smiling big. I was excited to find out all I could about the composition, arrangement, and structures of this body of a man who donated his remains to be stuck with tiny flags and prodded at by undergraduates. This captivation with systems became increasingly macroscopic for the next few years, turning me to laboratory science, public health, and finally to the humanities, where I spent most of the last five years reading, looking, and listening.
I realized not too long after that anatomy course that I could not be a doctor if I did not know what we were living for, or at least be convinced of something worth trying to live for. This question followed me through semesters of infectious disease courses, figure drawing courses, world religion courses, tap dance, health policy, 2 years of French…I learned how to operate a fire extinguisher, I became a certified phlebotomist, I lived in Russia for a few years, and I spent an inordinate number of summer evenings on lawns under Christmas lights with guitars and harmonicas. It was all time well spent and gave me some sense of an answer to my question, though I expect and hope that answer will be amended continuously throughout my life.
In the sunset of graduate studies, I was living in an abyss of systems, no longer the fibrous nervous system or skeleton of that body, but of structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstruction, and Marxism, trying to pull them apart for some kind of diagnosis and prognosis (i.e. a passable thesis). My professors at this time taught me how to observe art, moving images, and all the texts that surround us as clues that index the underlying structures of our social, political, economic, and religious environments. They taught me to confront information from multiple perspectives and showed me how things change when you look at them from other angles. At this juncture, I was confronted with the long path of academia or a return to what initially set a fire under me.
The humanities taught me what my science classes didn’t: that no matter how hard we try we cannot obtain objectivity. This may be an unpopular opinion in the medical field but I find it to be instead a strength, if we are willing to use our subjectivity to find better practices and more creative solutions to all the problems that confront us as physicians—symptomatic or underlying. Of course, recognizing this and applying it may take more work than our current systems demand, but that is ultimately my goal—to work myself to death.