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Life as a physician is sometimes like a runaway trailer

It was a hot day in Northern California, and my clothes were covered with the red dust of summer. At age 9, I couldn’t take a step on our property without grasshoppers launching themselves from the dry wheat grass. Colorful ladybugs were also out in force. I searched everywhere for a container to keep my prized bugs, but my efforts were to no avail. I headed for Mr. Maryfield’s trailer, which was parked on a hill at the property line we shared. I walked by the trailer. The temptation to peek inside was powerful despite multiple warnings from my dad not to go near it. My head was on a swivel, searching for some kind of bug prison. Trailer in sight, I hesitated. “Don’t do it,” I could hear my dad saying. “It’s too dangerous.” But my desire to find a bug container was strong.

Despite dad’s warning, I climbed onto the trailer’s iron tow mount at the front and peered over the sidewall. There it was! A beautiful blue Maxwell House coffee can at the front corner directly below me. But I was a nervous cat and jumped off the trailer not once, but three times getting my courage built up. I looked around like a shoplifter contemplating a candy bar heist.

The trailer was heavy and didn’t move an inch as I boarded it for the third time. It had dual wheels and metal bars supporting a wooden enclosure. When I was sure nobody was watching, I bent over the sidewall until my body was upside down.

I sensed my feet were now in the air, and I remember feeling vulnerable. I reached for the can and barely managed to grab it by the lip. My heart pounded but paused momentarily when I felt the trailer beginning to move.

Instant terror came over me, but not for fear of my safety. It was my father’s wrath I feared most. I managed to right myself back onto the tow bar with the prized can in hand. But the trailer was picking up speed, and with my back to the street, I was now along for the ride.

I knew that I had to act to prevent catastrophe. The trailer was gaining speed. A plume of red dust surrounded me, and I couldn’t see the driveway below. That’s when I leaped off the front end, landing on my feet while clutching the iron tow bar. I pushed against the tow mount as if my 4th-grader strength would slow its forward motion. It was not to be as the hefty trailer pushed me.

I was surfing backward on the soles of my now-burning high-tops. With my body outstretched and my shoes digging into the driveway, thick dust coated my mouth.

Surely, I was in the middle of a cattle stampede trying to bulldog a giant steer. The trailer drove me halfway down the driveway until my legs collapsed, causing my grip on the tow mount to release. I was sucked under the trailer and then thrown to one side, leaving me with tread marks where the tires had crossed my shins. My father was there and saw the whole incident. He picked me off the ground and hugged me. There would be no retribution, only a celebration of life. The trailer veered and hit a tree at the end of the driveway, effectively avoiding disaster.

Initially, when you first discover your desire for the sciences and medicine, it’s all-consuming. If you choose a career in medicine, you better be ready. The path to the prize can be trying with many obstacles.

You will have many questions. What is required? How does one with average grades get accepted into medical school? People in your circles will gladly tell you how hard it is and how much of a sacrifice you will have to make.

What about your wife and child? How will you support them and still study? But you’re not put off. You like a challenge. You reach for the blue coffee can despite what others are telling you. And that’s when something amazing happens. You get an acceptance letter.

Congratulations, you survived the woke admissions process! Your life is now moving in the right direction. But in an instant, you feel the control starting to leave you. You’re now a passenger in said life.

Everything is moving faster as you move through medical school, internship, and residency. Nothing gets easier or slows down. You thought you’d have more family time, but time is no longer your own.

Your relationships are challenged, as is your sanity. You feel desperate to be competent. Financial pressures are building. When your first physician job arrives, you’re rolling at full speed. The ride gets bumpy as you navigate your first employment contract and learn a new EMR. And don’t forget to study your DEI packet because there will be a test. Your employer expects you to see thirty-plus patients, that is if you want loan forgiveness.

Good thing you have malpractice insurance because you’re gonna need it. For no fault of your own, a couple of your patients are not happy. But you’re still working, for now.

If you choose traditional private practice out of residency, your partners will likely want a piece of you. They want you to make money for them. “You better buy-in,” they tell you. They will not hesitate to see you in court if you step out of line. Now your career is moving at light speed, kicking up dust from the dirt road you’ve chosen. At some point, you can no longer hang on or see the path beneath you, so in an act of desperation, you leap off, not knowing where you will end up.

You’re inevitably tossed to the side, bruised and battered. You can now lick your wounds. But don’t you worry! You’re still alive, and many people love you. And because you’re a good person, a telemedicine job will be there to dust you off and embrace you.

Christopher Nyte is an otolaryngologist.

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