My Mirrors

By Kevin Singh – Class of 2016

Who am I?

That, my dear reader, is a fundamental question that is important not only for those in the medical profession, but also for anyone in the population at large. It is a concept that is heavily emphasized in the medical application process, and a thorough answer requires deep thought and reflection. Simply put, there’s no half-assing it. Having been granted admission to McMaster medical school, it’s clear that my colleagues and myself provided a sufficiently satisfactory rationale. Phew. The troubling thing, though, is that once you get caught up in the hustle and bustle of medical school, it’s very easy to lose yourself. It soon becomes a distant memory, enshrouded by the minutiae of day-to-day life, and the daydreams of clerkship and residency that lie ahead. You soon find yourself at risk of losing who you are.

So today, I’m taking a good, hard look in the mirror. From a purely aesthetic perspective, I see bright brown eyes covered by a handsome pair of Burberry black-rimmed glasses, and a head with slightly thinning jet-black hair. I see a short, prickly beard, trimmed at the right length to give off a certain laissez-faire vibe. Sure, my biceps could be bigger, but on the whole, I’m reasonably satisfied. Easy enough. Now, let’s dig deeper.

The first step involves removing the superficial layers, a heavy external armor bestowed upon me by those in my circle of interaction. I am a composite of opinions, and depending on who you ask, you’re likely to get a different answer. My tutors and undergraduate professors see me as a bright young man with solid potential in the field of medicine. Some of my colleagues (particularly the ones with whom I’ve worked) would wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. Some of my colleagues just don’t like me, and mistakenly interpret my laidback mannerisms as arrogance. Although I don’t necessarily agree, they have a right to their opinion. My family and close friends would tell you that I’m warm, trustworthy, and caring. Although they’d also most likely mention countless embarrassing stories from my childhood, or even from a few days ago.

However, it is imperative that you take the aforementioned points with a grain of salt. For example, let’s say a patient presents to the ER clinic with chest pain. Medical student #1 thinks it’s a myocardial infarction. Medical student #2 thinks it’s an aortic dissection (and nearly faints from nervousness). Medical student #3 forgot to review the cardio material (tsk tsk). End of day, you can’t diagnose with certainty without performing some component of a history and physical exam. The same principle applies to self-evaluation. For a moment, forget what everyone else has said. Look at yourself. Just you. What do you see?

Once all the bells and whistles are removed, you’re left with just yourself, which can either be quite terrifying or enlightening, depending on your stance. That’s it. You’re human. There are two key descriptors, I feel, that best encapsulate me:

1. Heart: If I believe in something, I will never quit, regardless of potentially hundreds of failures. Playing hockey growing up, I never possessed game-breaking speed, and my skating abilities on defense were suspect, to say the least. Playing tennis, I could never paint the lines with Picasso-esque precision like Roger Federer. Try as I might, I can’t grab a toolbox and fix something without a well-written and visually oriented instruction manual. Academics aside, nothing ever came easy to me. Nothing was given to me. I fought. And I fell. And I got back up until I succeeded. At first, the failed efforts were merely unyielding assaults on my ego. But I soon came to recognize that failures are a natural part of life. You have to lose before you can win. This, my dear reader, builds character, and it makes me an excellent teammate.

There is one lesson to be learned, however. Sometimes, I need to stop trying. I need to accept that there are some things that can’t be fixed, both in life and in the practice of medicine. Let’s say a patient presents with terminal metastatic cancer. Sure, we could and would treat palliatively and psychosocially. But the mortality result is inevitable. And that is something I have yet to fully accept.

2. Resistance: I don’t like change. I hold on to things in the past. I have a deep appreciation for nostalgia and the days of yore. And while remembering the past is important, it’s crucial that you not let that stand in the way of the future. ‘Moving on’ is an idea I still struggle with, partially because I feel I can fix things. This type of mindset is poorly adapted for long-term success in medicine. To that end, I’ve been buying into Lao Tzu’s philosophy more and more, and it’s one that I highly recommend. “The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond winning.” In other words, You Can’t Always Get What You Want (cue the Rolling Stones). But sometimes, as I’ve seen these past few months, the alternative is so much better than you ever thought it could be. Hell, it’s even better than what you wanted in the first place.

So, the question remains. Do I know who I am? Do I like the person I am becoming? I’m not the tough guy. I’m not the sporty guy. I’m not the overly manly guy. I’m just the nice, quirky guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m a romantic through and through. When I like a girl, I buy her flowers and throw her a picnic. I’m calm and thoughtful, especially when it matters most. I care a lot, sometimes to a fault. I have some odd quirks, but who doesn’t?

I’m Kevin Singh.

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