I’m lucky to be up here. The doctors I work with are all exceptional, each one teaching me something different about how to be a physician. The nursing staff however have become my family. Their teaching spans from the dangers of leaving my cell phone unattended to the various reasons why I should stay humble. My nicknames vary daily, oscillating between “Mr. Target Customer Service,” when I wore my red sweater and khaki pants to “Romeo,” which I recently saw stored as my contact info in Mel’s phone. Beyond the medicine I’m learning, the warmth and kindness I’ve received this past year has been overwhelming. I am constantly in awe of the privilege with which I get to move in the world, be it doing facial biopsies, giving bilateral knee injections, or the hours of visits trying to make diagnoses while having intimate conversations with total strangers.
Last week I had the opportunity to drive to a lakeside converted barn for a home visit with a patient with aggressive metastatic cancer. Sitting in his living room with his family, I felt like I was really seeing someone. I was surrounded by their art, their love, and their beautiful messiness. Just watching him lean back in his own chair in his own home helped me contextualize this man in a a way that I never would have been able to in a clinic visit. This struck me as especially poignant while visiting someone for whom cancer has robbed of so much his humanity. The tenderness of that interaction and the vast information gleaned from sitting in someone’s house, further convinced me that Family Medicine is a uniquely privileged profession. Although it’s not romantic or flashy, it is by far the most challenging and fascinating specialty I could go into. I take that back, it is romantic in a messy sort of way. During this past year I have learned a little more about love every day. I see parents bringing children in, spouses bringing spouses, and children bringing parents. I get a daily dose of “old love,” the love between people who have lived a lifetime together. That love is never perfect, but it’s easy to pick out the couples who started with magic, because that’s what keeps their rheumatic eyes flashing even as their bodies fail them.
Sometimes near the end of a long clinic day my face feels frozen in a greasy smile. Adhesive facial myositis isn’t a thing, but after twenty or so patient encounters I feel like there is something not right with my face. Last Friday was one of those long days where I kept glancing outside to see sun brightly illuminating everything with the glitter of spring. When I have to work inside, those perfect days are harder for me than today’s grey clouds and cold sleet. I left the clinic at the end of the day, headed straight home, and quickly threw some camping equipment in my old green backpack. I stuffed in a peanut butter sandwich, 2 polish sausages, 1 green pepper, ground coffee, a percolator, rolled tobacco, and a flask of Wild Turkey. My app showed clouds rolling in around 7 pm, but that the rain would hold off until midnight or so.
Secret blackstone is perfect for this kind of night because the trailhead is about a half hour from Ely and the campsites are only an 8-10 min hike from the parking lot. The light was still holding as I set up camp. This allowed me to forage around for plenty of downed firewood. I had to spend an extra 5 minutes looking for cedar bows to put under my sleeping bag because when I was putting up the tent I realized that I’d forgotten my sleeping pad. It must have fallen out of the pack in my rush to leave the apartment. The campsite fire pit faced east toward the coming night. It was protected from the wind by the roots of an uprooted tree. A strong wind was coming off the lake, but as I leaned back against the logs that were scattered around the fire it only functioned to blow the smoke past my right shoulder. Dinner was simple, two sausages skewered on a sharpened branch, one similarly roasted green pepper, and whiskey to wash it down. After dinner I laid back against the logs watching the stars appear one by one in the sky as the clouds rolled away. I rolled a cigarette and watched the flames dance in front of me as my mind drifted between the past, present, and future.
The next morning I waited until the rain stopped to pull myself out of my tent and into the foggy morning air. There were only a few cedar bows left directly under my bag, as the rest of them had been squeezed out to the sides of the tent during the night. I quickly shook as much water from the rain fly as I could and packed up the tent wet because I knew I’d have to dry it later at my apartment. I then fired up the percolator over my little camp stove and waited for the coffee to boil as I ate my peanut butter sandwich. There are few things more satisfying than savoring good coffee while looking out over a glass lake and hearing absolutely nothing but the wind in the trees. After I finished the coffee I hiked back out to the car, changed into running clothes, and ran through the wet trails. I mostly concentrated on the smells and sites in the woods, but I also reflected on how lucky I am to have the family that I do.
My brother had left back to the cities the day before, taking with him his newly adopted dog Frankie. Frankie is a 7 month old yellow lab who is impossible not to fall in love with. Even so, the best part of the trip was being able to spend time with Drayton. It’s hard not to relish hanging out with your brother when he has grown up into such an impressive person. He engages being a high school english teacher with all of the drive and intelligence that it deserves. I cannot think of a more challenging and important profession, and he is diving into it with both his heart and eyes open. It’s always humbling to be in the company of someone who is genuinely good through and through, as well as who has a razor sharp wit and intelligence. We hiked every day he was up here and watched his little lab become a creature of the woods, daring and explosive if lacking in coordination and judgement. Taking her through town however, we witnessed the full display of her powers as she charmed even the most grizzled of Ely residents. I’ve always hated how people get weird about dogs, so I’ll leave it at that.