Reflections On Life—Anybody’s

By Howard J. Bennett, MD

I wanted to be a doctor for as far back as I can remember. Or, at the very least, I wanted to be a doctor for a considerably long period of time. And now that I have been a doctor for a long time—not a considerably long period of time, but a long time nonetheless—I thought it would be a good idea to reflect back, in an existential way, or at least a philosophical way, on the forces that drew me to this noble profession.

A lot of people go into medicine because they want to cure cancer or because they want to help people or, perhaps, because they want to make a lot of money. I went into medicine because of the weather.

You’re probably asking yourself how the weather could influence someone to make such a career choice, particularly someone with solid, earth-based common sense like myself? Well, in this instance, I am using the word “weather” metaphorically. Weather, as anyone who watches the evening news can attest, is something that nature hands to us like jewels from Queen Nefertiti’s tomb. Weather is something that nature gives to us like the cry of a newborn lamb. Weather is something that nature shoves down our throats!

Weather occurs because of the sun and the moon and the tide. Weather occurs because of all those fancy, hard to understand concepts from high school science courses, the ones we either fell asleep listening to or drifted through in a fog because we had a crush on someone who wouldn’t give us an umbrella in a rainstorm. Weather occurs because of terms like “barometric pressure” and “gulf stream” and “dew point” that are so perplexing, so difficult to comprehend—like pimples materializing on the virgin landscape of adolescent skin—that our brains would implode if we absorbed them all. And though these concepts were too difficult to understand, we learned them anyway so we could pass the tests and get into a good college…so we could get into a good medical school…so we could get into a good residency…so we could spend years taking care of patients until our eyes looked like volcanic ash.

And now, as I sit here reflecting on someone’s life, perhaps my own, I understand, finally, that the clouds that fill the sky are strung together like long forgotten baseball cards, the ones my older brother hid from me, plotting my every move and charting my course through the universe. But I digress.

I grew up in a family of doctors. My Uncle was a Doctor of Philosophy, and he talked to me about lots of things, philosophical things, and he bought me root beer floats whenever he came to town. My mother was a Doctor of Economics, and she took care of other people’s money. She read to me at night and taught me about debentures and capital gains and told me stories of how she brought people back from death’s door to fiscal health. My grandfather was rooted to the earth—he was a Lawn Doctor. He toiled under the blistering sun, his adversary and lover, to resuscitate wilted grass and vanquish malignant moles. He eradicated infectious weeds, added vital nutrients to the soil, and cosmetically altered gardens and lawns.

My brother was immersed in medical science from an early age. When he wasn’t in the cafeteria studying the gastrointestinal complications of eating overcooked food, lots of it, he loved poking holes in frogs and other amphibians. We talked endlessly about the wonders of nature, including the weather, and how someday he would get paid for putting holes in mammals, most of whom, he hoped, would be people.

So you can see that the molecules of my youth pushed me inexorably forward toward the career path of a healer. I could no more have gone into another profession than a 2-pound chunk of hail could avoid smashing through your windshield if it struck your car while you were hurtling down the interstate, preferably in New Jersey, at 90 miles an hour. And fortunately for you, I happen to be an orthopedic surgeon, so when the atmospheric elements drove us both to the same inescapable spot, as Nostradamus predicted, I would be there to mend your broken bones and, if your insurance is good, charge you a pretty penny in the process. Then, together, we would stand tall in a field of heather, looking upward towards the sun hoping that gravity, another force of nature, and any nearby birds, did not fashion a trajectory that would seal our fate.

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

(First published in Stitches, The Journal of Medical Humor January 2003.)

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