it was my calling, the way a bird is drawn to the song of its own kind

I could get into med school.

Couldn’t I?

I could. I would. I did. But there was a complicating factor. Right after a thick acceptance letter arrived from Mac, another envelope came. This one had a postmark from the U.K. I was being offered a full scholarship to go to Oxford for a PhD in English.

The medical school acceptance letter was printed by a computer; the package from Oxford included a personal invitation on crinkly yellow paper to drink sherry with tutors. I could picture my new Oxford life: I’d have a bike with a basket, and spend hours at the Bodleian. The real white cliffs of Dover. Weekends in Paris. Wool sweaters from the highlands, and a hearth and a stone fireplace older than anyone I had ever met. Bookshelves full of Yeats and Tennyson, and a room of my own, like Virginia Woolf’s. A place where the words could pour out of my heart and onto the page, and maybe someday those pages would find their way onto other shelves, maybe even the Bodleian itself.

But lying awake on those tortured, miserable nights, working it all out as if it were a formula with an elusive right answer, the “Go” or “Stay” columns were really “tutors with sherry” versus my sister in her wheelchair, bent over at a forty-five-degree angle, holding her head in her hands and asking if I could please take her to the summer fair. Those tutors wanted to know my interests within postmodernism. My sister had a more basic question for me: When are you coming home? …

I didn’t need to study English at Oxford to learn the power of words. I’d already had my most important teacher. It was that doctor, yelling at my parents, There’s no brain left. He taught me that people with power have a duty to speak with care, because they have been entrusted with something fragile they have no right to break. He helped me understand that medicine itself was a very specific kind of power, one I would never, ever abuse, because I knew it was sacred. And anyway, I wasn’t drawn to power. I was drawn to medicine because it was my calling, the way a bird is drawn to the song of its own kind.

That was the only contest Wendy won in her whole life. She drew me home. Not out of pity, but out of love and its attendant duty, and a sense there might be things in life that would matter more to me in twenty years than whether I had a PhD from Oxford or had seen the Bodleian. So one day that summer, I was able to look Wendy in the eye and tell her something she would forget a few minutes later: because of her, I was going to be a doctor. And in a few years, I’d be coming home.

Jillian Horton, We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing (HarperCollins Publishers, February 23, 2021)


Notes:

  • Highly Recommended. And if you can listen to it on Audible, narration is absolutely the best.
  • Book Review: cecescott.com

Comments

  1. Beautifully written and definitely will download…the road we must follow no matter the allure of other paths…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful. And I have a bunch of shiny new credits with Audible!
    Some decisions are easier than others, methinks

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I got goosebumps, I teared up. Definitely going to read! Thanks for sharing, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. this gave me chills. such a beautiful and powerful act.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This took my breath away. Downloading now…. Thx for yet another fabulous find, pal.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bulletholes says:

    Yeah, that really grabbed me. I guess there are choices, and then there are CHOICES.
    Or maybe sometimes we have choices and other times we get picked. lol
    Reminds me of a song I can’t quite put my finger on. Probably Ray Wylie Hubbard.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That would be a tough decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christie says:

    Never heard of Ray Wylie Hubbard. just listened to 1:20 sec of “Wanna Rock n Roll” I’ll be listening to him, some more…thanks Bulletholes

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Christie says:

    Jillian Horton, a compassionate & giving person…Life’s choices & Life’s struggle…Jillian was able to become a doctor and an author…her hands, medical knowledge, ability and her ability to write will continue to touch many…from the Amazon book description: “Jillian realizes that her struggle with burnout is not so much personal as it is the result of a larger system failure, and that compartmentalizing your most difficult emotions – a coping strategy that is drilled into doctors – is not useful unless you face these emotions, too. Jillian Horton throws open a window onto the flawed system that shapes medical professionals, revealing the rarely acknowledged stresses that lead doctors to depression and suicide, and emphasizing the crucial role of compassion not only in treating others, but also in taking care of ourselves.” the burnout and at times, the finality of suicide…when you DK posted about suicide recently -I just couldn’t reply…as I write, I cry, I knew a person, he was such a bright light! active in service to others since he was a child…amazing person…he went on to medical school…he married and about a year later he turned 30…a promising young surgeon in Chicago…last photo I saw of him he was talking to a class of about 8 year olds -he was wearing his white Doctor jacket, engaging them with some activity…he was always smiling…always giving, he apparently hid his struggle…about a week later he was gone…since it is the time of covid I don’t go away from home much…if I should run into his mother at the grocery store, I know I’d break down – I know I can’t do that to her…she’s a widow and had six sons. This is her second son she’s lost to Suicide…so Heartbreaking…// I also knew a doctor who job was difficult -seeing the suffering…he also helped with implementing, Physician Assisted Suicide…I’m not saying I agree with that course of action…

    Liked by 2 people

  10. now THIS is a book I’d read… even that short narrative has me sitting on the edge of my chair, I nod, I dream with her, I sigh in a deep comprehension. Funnily enough, tonight I spoke to HH about ‘what I’d want to do if I had my life again’ – somebody to understand what a person really is, inside and out, studying all kinds of important stuff, health, food, psychology, wellbeing, I’d do homeopathy, ‘touch for health’, natural and sustainable understanding, – but I’d never be a doctor… funny isn’t it?! Could discuss that for hours on end.

    Liked by 1 person

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