In an alternate universe

Going over this blog, I am surprised that I have not had any posts regarding probably the biggest choice in my life which I made sometime in high school, and that was simply: doctor or priest?

For those of you who may not know, in high school in the midst of my morose, teenage existence, I very seriously contemplated the Roman Catholic priesthood. In the end, I couldn't do it. I thought and thought and thought, but I decided against the priesthood. I just couldn't reconcile being alone for the rest of my life, without companionship or love or intimacy. It was too much of a void.

But fifteen years later, I have had all of two relationships, a number of dates that I can actually count, a complete absence of physical intimacy, and without a date in the last two years somewhat by choice. Now I question my teenage decision. I seriously wonder about such a strange choice, made with the presumption that I would probably be married by now, possibly with children. The plan was never that I would still be single.

I made that choice with the hope of love. I made it with the dream of finding another person to complement me, to share my life. I made that choice based on potentials and possibilities, and not about what I had or who I was. It was a decision of what was outside of me, outside of my control, and not anything to do with what was within me, except the intense desire to be loved.

And still, I have this intense, burning desire to be loved. It's not as much to love; it isn't reciprocal. I want to be loved, to be welcomed, to be held tightly. And honestly, I don't want to love someone as much. Still, I would love to love, to give my heart to someone, but I the idea that I am loved, that I am necessary, this is what has motivated my life.

My decisions and actions since this life changing, teenage choice, they have all boiled down to me being needed. My patients, I treat them with such compassion and earnestness because I seek their approval. I need them to see me as necessary, and to accept me. I am at heart a very selfish person. It is just that my selfishness is manifested by such altruism. It is like what Emerson said: "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."

Today, I find myself in such a quandary, because I find that decision in front of me again, and I'm not sure if I made the right choice. I don't know that I would choose the same path, knowing what I know now. It would be nice if I could look into an alternate universe and see what that other life would be like. Maybe I would find it to be the better choice, but I don't know that there is such a thing as better.

Part of what makes this choice not quite as disturbing these days was that when I was thinking about it more than a decade ago, it was with the knowledge that both choices were good ones, that I could live with either. I could never look upon a life as a doctor and say that it was a worthless endeavor. I couldn't see being a priest as a waste of time. It was a choice between two goods, not two evils.

Really, it's not about which choice was better, but which was right for me, because I didn't make that choice based on intrinsics but on what was extrinsic. If I think about who I am (or rather who I was) I'm not sure that I chose right. I'm still not sure, on the cusp of being an attending physician, if medicine was right for me.

I know that I have done good work. I have held the hands of the dying. I have comforted the sick. I have healed when I could, and done my best. I have without a doubt in my mind done good. If the scales of my life were to balance today, I would tip in the right direction.

I remember one of my patients was dying from florid sepsis, and the patient's sister refused to let the patient's boyfriend visit. She barred him from the ICU room. I sat her down in the nursing station and told her, "Your sister is not long for this earth. I have done everything I can do with medicine. There is no other drug I can give or procedure I can do. You have the exceptional duty to carry out her wishes, so please, whatever you may think of this man, please think of what your sister would want." She relented and let him see her as we turned off the levophed and dopamine. They wept and hugged, and she thanked me, she THANKED me, the man who let her sister die. Because love always beats hate.

And I had one patient with severe mental retardation without any family, and I held her hand and sang to her happy birthday, as the nurses turned off the vent and let her expire from sepsis. There was no one there to celebrate that day but me and the nurses. And after exactly 64 years on this earth, I stopped her life and closed her eyes.

There is not a doubt in my mind when I meet my maker that my soul is defensible, that I have done good with my life, and that was never the question. Because everyone is capable of doing good. The question is what was right for me. Because it's not like being a man of God is not without its own benevolence.

I remember I was in the hospital one day, and I met my priest there, standing over the body of one of my patients, a very wonderful lady who blew a vessel in her brain and was now brain dead. My priest thanked me for helping the patient's family. I pronounced the patient dead and left. I have to admit though that I was envious of that priest, that his job was just beginning and mine was done. And I wonder if maybe I made the right choice.


Jennifer said...

It's funny how in high school we plan our lives thinking nothing of our implicit assumptions and expectations that we will find our true love and our spend life with companionship and intimacy. It's surprising when you take a moment to think back to where you made the decision to take path A or path B and discover the reasons behind your choices were based on false presumptions. I doubt many of us in our teens would have said at 25 or 30 or 35 we'd be single... but we are. And it's okay!

Anonymous said...

Nothing is stopping you from integrating your faith and values into your professional life. There is always need for spirituality with healing, for compassion and understanding. If you can be a physician and use your beliefs and the strength that they bring for good, then have you really turned your back on God? You may not be a priest, but there are never too many good people out there, so use the gifts that you have to do what you can.

incidental findings said...

To anonymous:

It's not a matter of wanting to be a priest. It's that one of the biggest decisions of my life was predicated on entirely false assumptions, and now, I can't help but feel like maybe my decision was not the right one for me, because I made that decision based on nothing.

Anonymous said...

Hindsight is 20/20, so it is unfair for you to look back and say that your decision was based on nothing. How were you to know that 15 years later you would be alone? How do you know that you will not meet a wonderful woman tomorrow? You don't, and that is life. Would you be any less alone in the priesthood? No, you would merely have different training and a different job. You must live the life you have made for yourself, and be at peace with it (often easier said than done).