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A Doctor’s Birkenstocks: In Memoriam (2005–2017)

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Admittedly, it took me a minute to remember your birthday. We’ve been together for so long that it’s difficult to remember a life before you. I was a sophomore in high school and, after months of begging my parents, was spending Spring Break traipsing through Spain, France, and Italy. I remember the first time I saw you.

We were walking through the streets of Florence, sugar-drunk off gelato. Shops surrounded us. Call it fate, call it serendipity, or call it my ever-keen fashion sense… But there you were, proudly displayed behind a glass window. I remember it being warm for March, but you were more than just an excuse to get out of the sun. Within ten minutes, I had tried you on, paid the salesclerk, and was headed out the door (probably in search of more gelato). You were at the height of your popularity then. I wore you proudly for the rest of the trip.

As the years went by, we had our ups and downs. For months, I would relegate you to your lonely box at the back of my closet. I went off to college and left you with your grandparents. Other shoes more appropriate for toga parties and beer pong tournaments distracted me, and this will always be a source of embarrassment for me. I was not the owner you needed, nor the owner you deserved.

Rest in peace.

After four years of intermittent neglect on my part and the dark period of time in this country’s history when you and your kind were ostracized and ridiculed, we reconnected in medical school. I struggled to understand why we had ever grown apart. You were comfortable and dependable, perfect for cold lecture halls and grueling inpatient rotations. I owe part of my medical degree to you.

At some point, I decided I wanted to be a surgeon (#ilooklikeasurgeon), and we matched into otolaryngology. We kicked things off on July 1st in the medical intensive care unit, and we were in the thick of it. The shuffling of your soles brought me reassurance amongst the cacophony of ventilators and pagers that constantly beeped. I hoped our partnership would last forever.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. We were inseparable. We slept on plastic-covered mattresses that guaranteed a sweaty slumber and guzzled hospital coffee that aggravated our stomach ulcers. The long days and long nights took a toll on both of us — emotionally, mentally, and physically. You were older (in shoe years) and were struggling to keep up. For a long time, I denied this.

Call nights were punctuated by emergency Dermabond procedures, in hopes of temporizing your wounds. “Just two and a half more years and then we can rest,” I would think to myself as I frantically tried to repair your injuries with purple goop. Like much of what we did in the medical intensive care unit, this was life-prolonging — not life-saving. I knew that our time together was nearing its end. I changed your code status to DNR.

Two weeks ago, what was a bad situation became worse. Your rubber sole had ceased to exist, and pieces of your footbed began to crumble, leaving a trail of cork down hospital hallways. This was useful for anyone who needed to find me but painful for you. It was in that moment that I knew it was time for us go home.

Over a decade has elapsed since we met. You have spent your entire life being my best friend, partner, and confidante — always ready to protect my feet during the running of the bulls in Spain or as I packed bleeding noses in the Emergency Department. To paraphrase Emily Brontë, “Whatever our soles are made of, yours and mine are the same.”

I’ll miss you.

Sinehan Bayrak, MD, is living her best life as an otolaryngology resident at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, KS. She hopes to pursue a fellowship in facial plastics and reconstructive surgery and spends most of her time outside of the hospital watching reality TV to prepare for this. While most of her posts are deleted by her sister/lawyer, she can be followed @SinehanBayrakMD on Twitter.

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