Dear Medicine, I Love You

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Hello my friend. It’s weird to compose a letter to something not human, yet such a large part of my existence. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be in the medical field, emphatically stating “doctor” when asked what I wanted to be as a child. During my teenage years, you still had a hold on my heart. But I briefly abandoned you when, as a woman who wanted a family and a career, I questioned whether you would welcome me in. Thanks to some incredible mentors, and a bit of persistent heart scratching from you, I chose medical school.

Medicine, you are hard to describe to someone who doesn’t know your ways. The long hours, the absent holidays, the missed weddings and funerals. The pager that can go off at any minute. The standardized tests that seem unnecessarily expensive and stressful. You aren’t always fair and sometimes you seem incredibly cruel — the unresectable cancer, the tragic accident, the misdiagnosis that results in unintended harm. These are all part of you, medicine, they keep me up at night and often make me question if you are right for me.

And let’s not even talk about the past two years — our relationship has been pushed to an extreme that I never could have imagined when I chose you. The masks, the isolation, visitor policies, public distrust. Medical school didn’t teach me how to care for patients in seclusion, how to best express empathy over an iPad, how to explain to families why they can’t be with their loved ones, or why their loved ones won’t make it. Others in the healthcare system have faced much worse than me and lost so much more.

Yet, I still feel our relationship has been put to the ultimate test. Your system is broken, your faults need reform.

But I still love you.

It is because of you that I have learned so much about myself. Through hard work, perseverance, and not accepting things I know need change, I’ve seen what I am capable of. You have presented me challenges that, prior to knowing you, I never thought I would be able fix. You have provided me the skill to not just save a life but to give someone their life back. As a transplant surgeon, I get to see your miracles every day — in organs brought to life and lives made whole again. You have shown me compassion beyond measure in the touch of a nurse at a patient’s bedside. You have taught me patience in a protracted recovery or a challenging patient interaction. You have given me hope in seeing a patient I never thought would make it out of the ICU walking triumphantly into my office.

Our relationship isn’t perfect. Sometimes you take too much of me, sometimes I am neglectful of you. I have spent too many hours away from my family and friends reviewing your results and typing up notes that don’t really reflect the heart of you, medicine, but I do them anyway. You have made me cry myself to sleep over an unwanted outcome and you have kept me up until the early morning hours worrying about a patient, a lab, a radiology result.

But no relationship is perfect — and I wouldn’t give ours up for a second. You give my life a deep meaning that others will never know. You deliver the highest of highs and truly devastating lows. You push me mentally, emotionally, and physically. You have forced me to think outside of my preconceived notions, to question the care we provide, to be angry about the inequalities that run rampant in our healthcare system. You have and will continue to make me a better person.

I don’t know if anyone is truly worthy of the gift you have given me: being able to care for my fellow humans in their most trying times. To make someone well; to give someone their mother, their brother, their best friend another year, another breath, another heartbeat — it’s an incredible honor that I far too often take for granted.

Medicine, thank you for always being there for me. Thank you for making my life beautifully complex and rewarding. Thank you for allowing me to see humans in their times of greatest need and enabling me to provide a cure. Thank you for teaching me the skills to provide comfort when a cure doesn’t exist.

Like many relationships, I didn’t truly know what I was getting into when we met, and though my childhood dreams set very lofty expectations, this partnership has exceeded them all.

I love you,

— Meredith

Meredith Barrett, MD, is a transplant surgeon in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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