In case you didn’t expect it, going to school to become a doctor is a pretty tortuous path. Most of the time, we feel like we are under-informed for the tasks we are sent out on, such as the one required of my classmates and I recently. Each of us were sent to a different rural clinic/hospital to follow a doctor/be a doctor for one week.
Included in our packed bags was this lovely checklist of people we were supposed to meet in our community, complete with blank spaces where we were supposed to collect autographs. If the faculty’s goal was to make us feel like second graders again, it was successful. If the goal was to actually get us to collect signatures, they failed miserably. I happen to be a bit of a rebel like that. But that is beside the point.
One of the blank check boxes was a home visit where they wanted us to go out into a three generational home in the community and observe. This seemed to be highly dreaded by everyone, probably because the thought of going into a person’s personal space feels invasive. Needless to say, most of my class didn’t even try complete this task. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, because my hospital set up my week for me. (Which was completely unexpected and quite a wonderful surprise, aside from the fact that I had no wiggle room for just doing what I wanted to do. So it goes.)
When it came time for my scheduled home visit, I forewarned that the majority of the houses that we would be visiting were far less than clean. I’m positive the word she used was “filthy.” From the road, the first place we pulled up to was a gorgeous A-frame log and stone house that looked like a dream cabin. Upon attempting to walk up the ice ridden path to the door, I began to notice what she meant. The porch was rotted out, the hole where the doorknob should be was filled with a plastic grocery bag, and the doormat was last weeks newspaper.
We were graciously welcomed, and upon entering I immediately noticed the olive shag carpet covered, again, in old newspaper, and bookshelves lined with stuff. Just a conglomeration of stuff that I can’t even begin to describe to you. There were patches of carpet samples on the walls with photographs hidden in between. A kit-cat clock hung not too far from a bird clock, and a coo coo clock was just a wall away from the others. There were enough salt and pepper shakers to set tables in most restaurants. An Ambercrombie and Fitch bag sat on a shelf next to national geographic magazines and books on Buddhism. A large white flag with some Asian symbol writing was tacked to the mantle, and a large owl figurine was sitting on top of the mantle overlooking a gorgeous stone fireplace, surrounded by other trinkets. Along one wall, a very long row of VHS tapes were lined up neatly. Looking up, I saw an ornate rug hanging over the railing of the loft bedroom. We were later told that these mats were placed on the floor, and beds were made on top of them in many Asian cultures. Although I am not doing the place any descriptive justice, I hope you are getting a glimpse of the house I walked into.
The elderly gentlemen roommates were quick to start talking about the pathway of life to both us naive first year medical students. One insisted we sit on his “bug free” couch, which easily could have been sitting in that exact same location since the 1960s. Although concerned for our nice, doctorly dress clothes, our concern for offending the men outweighed the former. As he continued talking, it came out that he was a war veteran, a former monk at the Vatican, and is now an practicing Buddhist. He talked about needing to find and maintain our center of peace, and that we, with no offense given, have not even the slightest clue as to what he meant by finding peace at our age. He showed us his most treasured prayer beads as well as his favorite prayer from the prayer book, and told us what they meant to him. He talked about the war, Vietnam. We were so wound in his stories, which were more like poignant statements left to sink in, we forgot that we were sitting on a ragged couch, among dust covered knick-knacks in a very cold, rotting A-framed cabin located in the middle of nowhere.
Just over a half hour later, the home health nurse had his medications set up, his vitals taken, and enough stories to have us wanting more. Unfortunately, it was early in the day and we had six other places to visit. After saying our goodbyes, we were reminded to find our centers, to find our peace. I can only hope to come to a point in my life where I am as interesting, knowledgeable, and tranquil as these two men were.
The weird thing about this whole visit was that I couldn’t help but think of fortune cookies the entire time. Maybe it was the strong Asian culture represented in the collections of stuff, but I’m not entirely sold on that idea. More likely, it is because I was handed something simple and foreign, and I had to break in past the exterior to find the profound message hiding beneath. Only this time I didn’t even think to ad “in bed” to the end of the messages.