Riiiing, riiiing, riiing.
Another restless night. With heavy hands, I reach for my phone. The dark crack distinctly visible in contrast to the bright screen that illuminates it. It’s 4:45 am.
Perfect. That’s when I always wake up. Even though I doze at 4 am, I still manage to awaken 45 minutes later. It’s routine.
I gaze at the screen, musing at the option of hitting the snooze button, but decide against it. I hit the dismiss button and wearily get out of bed, then make it. I then kneel and pray. It’s routine. I pray for family, for friends, for the sick and the poor. Most of all I pray to win the lottery. The latter, yet to be answered.
I proceed to the bathroom and gaze with obscure vision at my face. Evidence of dried drool still plastered to the corners of my mouth. I run my right hand over my head, displacing strands of short curly hair. I watch as they fall into the sink. Pieces of myself never to be returned. I groan with regret. It displeases me to have so much hair. I think back to the pictures I’ve seen of my father. The receding hairline. The bright glow of the sun’s reflection upon his head. The future is bleak for the men in my family. All ebb and no flow. It’s best I enjoy it now.
Riiiiing. Riiiing, riiiiing.
The second alarm. It’s 5:30 am now. So much time wasted! I hurriedly undress to shower and I jump in, letting the water hit every inch of my being. The pressure rises as I become accustomed to the heat surrounding me.
Just like that. Like countless waves crashing on a mountain side overlooking the deep vast sea. The dread overwhelms me. The mundanity of it all. School, hospital, study. School, hospital, study. Repeat. It’s routine. With no walls around me, I remain trapped. Struggling against the oceans burden as I kick and and I claw. I can’t swim. My heart quickens and breath shortens, my hands and feet heavy. I feel the throbbing in my head, getting heavier with each second. Boom, boom, boom, boom… and just like that, it stops. I open my eyes to the water pouring from the shower head. The temperature now cold. Like Antarctica’s tears. I can feel myself shivering as a smile flashes across my face. So subtle, so short lived, but I’m sure it was there. This switch, from hot to cold, despair to excitement.
A quick wash and a rinse and I’m done. I wrap myself within the warmth of a nearby towel and begin to dry off, then put on the same light blue scrubs with the hospital’s name and logo emblazoned on its chest pocket. It’s routine. I had come to admire this simple but comfortable attire. The chosen clothing for my future profession. As I take a last look at that all too familiar mirror, the unfamiliar face that stares back at me from within; I am reminded of Thoreau’s warning: “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
I think back to this past week, when the incoming class of medical students arrived at our school. Starry eyed with bright smiles, they seemed joyous to embark on this new voyage. A voyage to a land of dreams, of hopes, of wants. All too often as students, we neglect the journey we take to achieve our goals. Like a state function, we focus on what we are to become and lose sight of the path that gets us there. We forget, not because we lack moments of great fervor, but rather because routine makes up the majority of our existence.
For the first two years, we wake up, attend class, study, repeat. The next two, we wake up, attend clinic, study, repeat. To succeed, we fall into this robotic rhythm as students, that in turn creates an effect of emotional diminishing returns. Those moments of intense joy and passion become too few and far between. Does this change in residency? During fellowship? After training? Or are we doomed, forever stuck in a state of perpetual repetition? Where our yesterdays are indistinguishable from our today and tomorrow?
I, too, remember my first days in medical school — starry eyed with bright smiles. The light in my eyes now dimmed, fated only to be illuminated in the moments I spend in the operating theatre. The smile on my face affixed in a state of object permanence. When this voyage ends, may it bring with it an end to our routine.
Chika Anyanwu is a 4th year medical student at Texas A&M College of Medicine. Chika has no conflicts of interest to disclose.