It was early afternoon on Christmas Eve. As a third-year resident I enjoyed the luxury of taking calls from home. The gas logs blazed as I lounged in my recliner and watched television with the beeper on the table. Suddenly, the power went out. Faced with a blank television screen, I looked for something else to do.
I began to organize a mountain of loose papers and pictures that were taking over my desk. Buried amidst the year-old materials was my old sketchpad. As I sat back and flipped through the completed sketches, I noticed that the last entry was from 1992, the year I had taken time off from medical school to do research. Had it really been that long?
I decided to attempt to sketch what I had recently seen on a Sunday afternoon getaway in the mountains. Faced with the blank white page, I tried to visualize the knoll where I sat, gazing across a broad area of the river to a point where some birds were roosting. It was a serene overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway I found while looking for a quiet place to contemplate my post-residency plans. As I sat on the rocky face, I remember thinking what a great picture it would make. A grassy knoll spread out like a blanket as the foreground. The large blue-brown flowing water looked like a slowly moving highway dividing me from the rolling hills beyond. I had studied the scene carefully, entranced by the beauty, while avoiding the uncertainty of what my future would be.
With a few quick strokes, feeling somewhat awkward at first, I began. Visualizing the scene proved easier than drawing it. There were several restarts and erasures before I began to feel more comfortable. The process was more difficult and frustrating than I remembered. I could see the details vividly, but getting them to take form on paper didn't flow as easily as it used to. After about 30 minutes, I was done, or at least I had translated everything to paper that I could. As I looked over the finished product I was somewhat frustrated; the image was not the vivid picture in my mind.
As with most others desiring to advance in the world, I tried to be a “well-rounded” student by developing a creative, liberal arts side to complement my more regimented academic side. I enjoyed sketching. While no Andrew Wyeth, I was able to create pictures that conveyed the image I wanted. To me, my sketches were not just captured images of people or places, but were reflections of some memory that couldn't be put forth in a mere photograph. But the time demands of medical school and early residency chiseled away devotion to other personal interests, such as practicing the saxophone or playing basketball, until I found myself a one-dimensional creature rather than a renaissance man. I am dismayed that too many former “talents” have become “past interests.”
That evening the power came back on, and the remainder of the call night was uneventful except for a few outside calls. After making rounds the next morning, I thought back to the previous day's events. I wondered how many David Sanborns and Ansel Adamses were never discovered because of the demanding time constraints of the medical profession. Medicine is a constant challenge. Like every other person I've met in this field, I want to be a good doctor. In that desire lies an inherent demand to keep abreast of an ever-changing knowledge base. Beyond that, I also want to give back to my community, make contributions beyond my profession, have time for a family, to be a good husband and father, and I want time for myself. As I review these goals, I realize that currently there is quite a gap between what I desire and what I have achieved.
So, as I complete this last phase of my training, an unusual situation provided me with a rare moment to reflect. Over the past seven years, I've made many sacrifices with time, family and energy. Looking back, I wouldn't change the direction of my life, but I would have made a stronger attempt to hold on to those “well-rounded” corners. If I can't rekindle these interests and balance my life now, I fear it will only grow more difficult with the added responsibilities of a practice, a wife and children. Over time, I also realize the balances of life will have to be readjusted again and again. While I am very happy that this is my chosen career, it shouldn't be my whole life. Approaching a new year and a new time in my life, my New Year's resolution is to spend more time redeveloping some of those talents that are hidden deep within. I just hope I haven't waited too long.