A year ago today I hung up my lab coat for the last time, and walked out of the institution that trained me and baptized me to the world of oncology. It’s been a year since I’ve touched the hand of a patient, counseled my medical team, guided the path of a student. And yet, it seems like I was just there. These twelve months were only a slow blink.
I’ve had a year to reflect on my past, weigh the present, and consider the future. I didn’t realize how much I defined myself by my work until I was no longer doing it. My career in healthcare seeped under the skin and wove its fibrous tendrils into my subconscious; collaterals formed and I couldn’t excise these memories without negating part of myself. Not that I tried too hard —
This is sounding like a lament, which it isn’t. But I must admit that I lied. I’d always advised my residents that your first job isn’t your last job. For me? In a way, working at the UW and the Hutch spoiled me. My first job was my ideal job, and I’ve had to reconcile that I’ll never find anything close. It doesn’t mean I haven’t moved on. In my heart I’ve always understood that I can never go back.
So I walked another path, one seemingly quite different. In this year, I looked into my heart. I painted (a lot). I wrote and ran and read and traveled and downward dogged etc. and went around the world to find myself.
I realized how much of myself I lost during those years of 80-hour work weeks, constantly being on-call, always having something else to do. The unrelenting stress and demands leeched so much out of me and I didn’t know how fractured I was until I picked up my paintbrush and started creating again.
I realized how much of myself I ignored during this year of rediscovery, of purposefully avoiding most things medical. The hubris that I could leave it all behind without consequence; thinking I wouldn't miss the demands and challenges, the problem-solving and teaching. I didn't know how much I missed it all until I finally allowed myself to remember it.
Light needs darkness; the body needs the mind. I’ve gotten to know myself again at this point in my life. I discovered after all this time that I cannot subsist on art alone, that both my heart and my head need science. I need both science and art to find my humanity. I gave up science in order to give me back myself. And now that I've found myself, I refuse to give it up again.
For something so simple… it took me a long time to figure out.