A Man Collapsed on the Sidewalk
As a pre-med major, I had to be honest: did I really want to be the doctor who would treat him?
A man fell at the corner. Onlookers would later speculate that heíd had a stroke or heart attack, but it was the impact that did the most damage. Even though his arms were splayed across the sidewalk, his face had broken his fall. A pool of blood spilled onto the concrete, as witnesses gathered around him.
I arrived at the scene after my afternoon class. New Yorkers are always moving, and it usually takes celebrity or tragedy to stop them. This mood went beyond a neighborly lull. It was a different sort of silence Ė one of shock rather than apathy.
A selfish thought occurred to me: Would I want to be the doctor who would treat this manís injuries?
Iím used to blood. During summers observing in a hospital where my dad is a pathologist, I saw everything from hernia repairs to caesarian sections. Surgery seems to be as much about technical skill as medical knowledge, a craft that takes talent as well as practice. But the sterile operating room is far removed from the mundane classroom.
My dad seemed to want me to follow in his footsteps. So during my freshman year at college, I registered for chemistry, with conviction if not with gusto. Six sessions per week was intimidating, but I plunged in. Iím grateful for the experience. It taught me that I really dislike chemistry. My father assured me that memorizing the periodic table bore little connection to a physicianís practice; rather, it was a rite of passage. But I couldnít shake the feeling that I was wasting my time.
Another disconnect developed. My fellow aspiring doctors all loathed Writing the Essay, but it was my favorite class. Iíd found a craft as intricate as surgery Ė and even more rewarding.
I began writing for the school newspaper Ė for the music section, no less Ė and really enjoyed it. Writing about obscure bands might seem trivial compared to patients needing care, but getting a story right can be as difficult as carrying out a flawless operation. Precision and accuracy matter in both endeavors, though the results are different. I saw surgery as controlled destruction at best, while writing is purely constructive. Of course, both activities require a fair amount of cutting.
If nothing else, journalism felt right.
My pragmatic father disagreed with my direction. He painted a dismal picture of newspapers going bankrupt and an industry where you cling to a job that doesnít even pay well. Everyone can write, he reasoned — and whereís the security of a profession that doesnít require a license?
Now that Iím halfway through college, the experience is less about branching out than focusing in. Juggling two drastically different majors Ė pre-med and journalism — is no longer just inconvenient, itís potential career suicide. So Iíve decided to drop pre-med. This was more a matter of emotion than calculation: Iím happy when Iím writing, not when Iím slicing open preserved fetal pigs. My pre-college plan has splintered. But perhaps thatís for the best.
My father tries to be supportive, though of course he canít entirely abandon his position. He urges me to keep my options open. He cites the example of a colleagueís daughter, who worked on Wall Street for a year before ďsettlingĒ on med school. That might be too lofty a comparison.
So the next time a man falls, Iím unlikely to have the skills to repair his wounds. But it doesnít mean I wonít care for him, even if all I have to offer is words.