Again Apropos of Nothing Part A

Random Musings on the New Year

The years roll by. I have vague memories of time passing with glacial slowness. Waiting for summer vacation. The eternity of high school. The time when it seemed that I had alway been in boot camp and always would be. The months I counted during the first Gulf War waiting to be reunited with my beautiful girlfriend who I later married.

And yet, it has all come and gone in what seems like an instant. Was it really nine years ago when my oldest was born? It doesn’t seem like it. The memory is too vivid. With easy reflection I recall the eternity of of sleepless nights spent walking the baby back and forth in the nursery, the fatigue from the second child who refused to sleep and spent what seemed like her first six months of life perpetually crying, and the death of my father from what I now know was brain mets from a malignant melanoma.

So I remember this time six years ago when, like many of you, I was checking the mailbox every couple of hours for the fat envelope announcing that I had been accepted to medical school. I had to wait a little longer, unfortunately, as I wasn’t accepted until early March.

You almost wish that you could get an answer-yes, no, something, anything-right after your interview. Of course this is not the way admissions work. Medical schools angle for the big fish, patiently working the lure hoping for a strike. After the pool is played-out they may throw a common worm on the hook and go after some trash fish. I guess that was me but I don’t care. One of the top students in our fist year class who was probably offered admission on her interview couldn’t handle the stress and quit halfway through first semester. I am sorry to say I felt vindicated. I may have been on the third-string roster but obviously there are other traits besides a 4.0 GPA and a 39 on the MCAT that maybe aren’t selected for as aggresively as many of you, oh my patient readers, would hope.

I don’t know why I decided to apply to medical school. There was certainly nothing in my background that would point anybody in that direction. As many of you know, I began my career as a United State Marine back in the early 1980s. I had just been kicked out of the University of Vermont for bad grades. Well, I actually had almost no grades as I seldom went to class and a couple of times didn’t even know where or when to sit for the final.

Have you ever had that dream where you are late for a big exam for which you forgot to study? That was pretty much my reality. I partied a lot too, although that’s not much of an excuse because a lot of people party and study (the college ideal). So with no prospects, no interest in academics, but also no desire to flip burgers for a year before I re-applied I thought I’d give the military a try. I directed my pasty, lackadaisical body to the local recruiting station and presented myself to the representatives of our country’s military might, slowely recovering at that time from the ravages of the both the Carter years and Viet Nam.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force were like car salesmen and tried to sell me on the options. “College!” said one. “Travel!” another. “Great lifestyle!” said the third. Sign with us and reap the tangible benefits of job-training, medical care, good pay, good chow, and easy promotion.

The Marine recruiter on the other hand, the most ferocious-looking individual I had ever seen, looked me up and down contemptuously and said, “Son, I’d like to take you but I just don’t think you have what it takes to be a Marine.”

Bait taken, hook set, nothing to do but reel me in.

Three weeks later I was sworn in at the Manchester, New Hampshire MEPS station and eventually found myself on the famous yellow foot-prints aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. After boot camp I went to the Basic Armor Crewman Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and spent my first four years as a Tanker, eventually becoming a Tank Commander of a 62-ton M60A1 RISE Passive Main Battle Tank. A pretty good job, all things considered. Plenty of firepower, big engines. And limited walking. All the more reason my Battalion commander thought I was crazy when he re-enlisted me for another four years and a transfer (or lateral move) to the infantry.

I did my second enlistment as a machinegunner and then a mortarman in the heavy weapons platoon of an infantry rifle company, Company K (or “Kilo”) of the Third Battalion of the Eighth Marine Regiment…or “K 3/8” for the cognoscenti. I know I complain a little on this blog about the difficulties of medical school and residency. I have apparently grown an ovary or two since my Marine days. But the life of an infantryman is a hard one and I laugh whenever some idiot surgery attendings justifies his abuse of me by how tough he had it.

Mother-fucker, I have operated for weeks at a time above the arctic circle humping a 120 pound pack as well as a machine gun, a mortar tube, or some other heavy ordinance. I have slept in the snow and longed for nothing more than a pair of warm socks to make my life perfect. I have baked in the desert, thankful for the shade of a low bush and a couple of warm gulps of plastic-flavored water from my canteen. You were on call in a nice, air-conditioned hospital while I swam in the dark, through the close, humid underbrush of a nightime jungle and while you were mistreating your medical students and junior residents I was leading some of the finest men you are ever likely to meet, without belittling them or treating them like they were somehow inferior by virtue of enlisting a few years later than me.

So this explains my low tolerance for abuse. Put on your body armor. Shoulder your pack. Grab your 19 pound machinegun and thirty pounds of ammo and lets go humping, you and I, up and down the mountains. Then we’ll talk about your so-called difficult life and your right to talk down to me. You’d have your ass kicked in the Marines by the first Private First Class to whom you opened your stinking cake hole.

But I digress. I was honorably discharged as a Sergeant and decided to go to back to college for the right reason, that is, to get a well-paying job.

Next: College. A job. You want to do what? The Plan. MCAT secrets.

One thought on “Again Apropos of Nothing Part A

  1. I really enjoy your blog. I can’t claim to be a regular reader, but the parts I have read are very insightful. However, I wonder if it is fair to berate an attending who has had a very different life than yourself. I agree that the life of a marine is significantly more difficult than the life of a medical resident, but they are difficult in very different ways. As a medical resident you are facing the stress that results from increase responsibility, while as an enlisted man you are suffering from physical and emotional stress that results from fear, cognitive dissonance, and a loss of personal freedom. I am not saying that you are incorrect in assuming he was/is some snob that was raised in a well off family (likely the case), but he could just have easily have come from a rough background and overcome a lot of adversity. The military is very hard( I say this coming from a much lighter less enlightened military background than yourself); however, once you enlist you are pretty much forced to endure. You aren’t generally eliminated unless you are trying for SEAL, Special Forces, Delta Force etc. If you are an able body that can pass the physical qualifications you are good to go, and you learn to endure despite necessary hardship. Furthermore, you choose to reup because it becomes the social standard. Again, I am not arguing that you have not endured greater hardship, I am arguing that there was nothing particularly unique in the way you behaved when confronted with the hardship, so you are in essence judging someone based on something that they didnt do because they never had to. I have seen many in the military behave the same way (you don’t get me or anything because I have been through more than you). Is this behavior justifiable? Certainly. Is this behavior healthy or fair to your superiors in a different field? Probably not. You can learn even from the most ignorant hateful people, and placing yourself on a moral high horse causes a break in understanding. At least this is what I have found from my interactions with people very different than myself.

    Sorry for the huge paragraph, but I am writing this from a cell phone which is not ideal. I just wanted to thank you for things you have written already, and start a conversation. I do not mean to be caustic, if this seems as such, and I know that you have a lot of reasons to be cynical that I do not have.

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