No “Might Have Beens”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

All through high school I belonged to the Medical Careers Club. By my junior year I was an officer in the organization, and in my senior year I became the president. Everyone thought that I was going to go into medicine. I wanted to be a nurse, and my family wanted me to be a doctor. I worked for our family physician each summer from the time I was fifteen years old. He took an interest in me, and did his best to send me on a pathway to medical school. It only took one field trip to Baylor College of Medicine in the spring of my final year in high school to totally derail my desire to become involved with the medical field. 

I had planned the outing for the members of our club, and everyone was quite excited. We were lucky enough to get an insider’s look at the laboratories and the current research taking place at the school. One of the rooms we visited contained specimens of human body parts, some of which were healthy and some which were seriously diseased. At first I gazed at them with total fascination, but eventually I found myself becoming dizzy, and finally physically ill. I had to hide my state as best I could, but I feared losing it as my stomach churned and my head throbbed. By the time I got home to the safety of my bed, I somehow believed that I would never make it through the rigors of medical school or even nursing classes if I was unable to handle a few specimens languishing in jars of formaldehyde. I decided to choose another career.

I’ve never really looked back on my decision to eschew a medical career until recently. I enjoyed being an educator, and stayed so busy for decades that I had little time to consider “might have beens.” I was happy with my work and continue to serve as an teacher even during my retirement years, albeit on a much smaller scale than when I was working full time. What I do know is that once I had my own children I learned to deal with medical emergencies that might have caused me to faint when I was younger. I realized that when someone needs aid, my brain somehow allows me to do whatever I need to do without noticing blood or vomit or pus filled infections. 

When my youngest daughter gave birth to her twins she had a Caesarian section. Her wound became greatly infected and had to be reopened to drain the toxins. I was in charge of keeping the area germ free during the healing process. It was not a pretty sight at all and yet I found the wherewithal to follow the directions for cleaning it several times a day without hesitation. In fact, after a time I actually felt a tinge of enjoyment in being able to properly care for my girl. 

I’ve talked with friends and relatives who are doctors and nurses and they tell me that everyone goes through phases of reacting badly to various procedures. They get dizzy using certain instruments and techniques. They feel an aversion to certain smells or things that they see. Eventually they get past their difficulties and are able to deal with practically anything they encounter. I suspect that I might have been able to do that as well.

That doctor for whom I worked sometimes asked me to assist him with a patient. I remember one time holding the grossly infected foot of a man while the physician drained and dressed the wounds. At first I wanted to run away, but I did not want to appear to be a wimp to the doctor who was always so kind to me. I thought of closing my eyes, but that would have been a sure sign that I was struggling with the situation. I simply took a deep breath and focused on the process that the doctor was using rather than the horrific look and foul odor of the infection. The fact that I made it all the way through the task without so much as a flutter in my tummy should have told me that I might have been okay dealing with all of the facets of nursing or doctoring.

I’m totally fascinated by medicine. I spend lots of time reading about research into diseases and learning about the human body. I often think that I would have enjoyed working in a lab at one of the hospitals or being part of a team searching for answers to medical riddles. Right now I find myself searching for everything I can find about Covid-19 and other coronaviruses. One of the most exciting areas of study centers on the genetic makeup of those who are heavily exposed to Covid-19, but never get sick versus those who have no history of health concerns who end up with severe cases that sometimes lead to death. There are some promising leads from this work that might one day fortify vaccines for the virus as well as create treatments that will eliminate the most horrific consequences of the disease.

It’s somewhat fun realizing that I probably would have done well as a doctor or nurse. I’m not particularly sad that I chose to walk away from such a career though because the one that I followed brought me immeasurable joy. Perhaps the truth is that the way my life unfolded is exactly how it was meant to be. I’ll never know for sure, but I do know without a doubt that I prepared the foundation for many of my students to continue to careers in medicine. Maybe in some ways that is what I was always supposed to do, and that moment in the lab at the medical school was exactly what I needed to set me down the right path. 


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