Monday, August 10, 2009


It’s the kind of thing you don’t expect.

It starts with a bit of reluctance, peppered with a reservation, knowing that things will take a bit longer this day.

And there you are, contemplating the day ahead, when a soft voice interrupts the reverie:

“Uh, are you Dr. Fisher?”

You turn and see not a colleague, but a stranger, a young stranger much more fit than you, smiling. You admire the crispness of their lab coat, the gleam in their eye, the enthusiasm that seems to exude from their pores. Not that anything has happened, mind you, but still, for a brief moment, you see yourself in the same place many years ago. Eager, anxious, awestruck and clueless, all blended together in a complicated emotional goulash.

Years ago it was you, entering a different lab. You knew no one, knew nothing and barely had an idea how to tie a facemask so your chin was not permanently touching your chest. Surrounded by instruments and tech-speak you watched. You had no idea how in the hell you’d ever be able to do this, but never dared to admit it.

But time passed.

Slowly, gradually, carefully, your mentor introduced you to your new home away from home. See one, do one. Bit by tiny bit. Hundreds of hours, thousands of anecdotes. Each meant to shape you, scare you, and guide you. “Here, feel what 1500 psi feel like in your hand” as the pigtail spewed contrast in my palm. “How many cc’s are in that catheter?” “This is the image intensifier.” “Gotta hold longer.” Tons of iterations, plenty of mistakes. “It’s okay to make a mistake once,” they’d say, “but not twice.” Papers. Research. Presentations. Fewer inefficiencies. You taught the first- and second-years, but still were the student.

And then they said you were done.

But you quickly realized you hadn’t even started. Going alone is different. Very different. So you learned some more. You kept watching, absorbing, getting faster, safer, yet always losing sleep over tough cases. Again and again and again. Soon you realize you're growing weary, growing old.

Until in the din of a back room a fresh face walks in and asks who you are.

And suddenly you realize it's good to slow down again, if for just a moment, since the student is the teacher in more ways than one.

1 comment:

roger said...

This is lovely writing.