By Karl Chen, MD
It’s the middle of November in Salt Lake City. In the bowels of Salt Lake Regional Hospital, I am sitting in front of a TV between admissions and pages. It’s the infomercial hour of the night and every channel seems to hawk a different life-changing product. Exercise equipment, cooking appliances, beauty products, home repair miracle glues, and cleaning supplies flit across the screen. Get six pack abs in 15 minutes a day! Deep fry your food with air! The temptation is there. Getting more from less—less time, less effort, less money— is the American way. We work hard and play hard and efficiency is prized almost universally. And that’s a good thing, right?
Thinking about that recently, I would argue against that point of view. Exhibit one is my significant other who recently decided to study archery and specifically bow-hunting. With a busy work schedule and zero experience, she has set a 3 year goal to learn to track, shoot, and successfully kill a deer. I can only guess at the reasons for this desire. Maybe it’s the draw (pun intended) of learning and developing a new skill, to be closer to her food choices, or to find kinship with our distant and not so distant ancestors. Or maybe she simply wants to shoot something. Saying that she has zero experience is not an understatement. Neither she nor I were raised in households with a hunting culture. The closest thing to a bow we were encouraged to master involved frets and treble clefts. She anticipates setbacks, slow learning curves, months of stagnation and frustration and second-guessing her choices. But that’s okay. In our busy, complicated, instant-gratification lives, now more than ever there is nobility, a beautiful simplicity in doing things the “slow way”, of taking your time to figure things out on your own.
There are obvious parallels to make here when it comes to many of our commitments to learning/teaching medicine. Looking back on medical school and residency I find personal identity and pride in the patients that took 2, 3 or 4 visits to warm up to me and in the mastery of concepts that slowly became clearer after years of study. I would argue that the same is true of almost everything in life that we find worthwhile. Before getting too preachy, though, we all know that relationships are built on competition. In the same vein, if my wife is going to go from picking up a bow to hunting a deer in 3 years, I’m going to learn to prepare, smoke, and cure the meats she brings home. In our apartment, I’ll need to raise some herbs, muddle through the techniques, and figure out a system of ventilation that won’t bring the fire department to our door. I’m thinking that a smoke box made of ceramic pots, a hot plate, a small electric fan, and a clothes rack are good places to start. Like residency, the journey will not be easy, but I plan to appreciate the ride. We’ll find out together whether venison prosciutto is as tasty as it sounds.
Karl Chen, MD is a third year Family Medicine Resident in the Department of Family & Preventing Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.