When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I told them a heart surgeon. They would laugh that sweet laugh adults laugh when cute, naive children speak of that which they know not of. As I grew older I started vocalizing that dream less, partly because I was tired of being reminded that I am a woman, partly because I became self-conscious that perhaps I wasn’t capable. Though I shoved it deeper and deeper into my subconscious, that idea never entirely dissipated.
I was in the OR the other day preparing for a coronary artery bypass when I struck a conversation with a man who asked me if I wanted to be a surgeon. I let him know that I haven’t entirely ruled it out yet. I’ve found that I enjoy working with my hands, that there’s something miraculous about using these fingertips to perform procedures that were once taboo, once unknown, but now saves lives. He reminded me, quite kindly, that I had to evaluate my goals in life. To be a surgeon takes many years of training, many hours, more than not of them spent in the hospital, is high stress, and not very family friendly. This I was very familiar with. This I noticed, when on the first day of the service I found myself to be the only woman, when I walked past the wall of memorialized medical giants and found all of them to be older white men. I could have been defiant, sassy, fiery with a response but I recognized the truth in his words and the kindness in which he spoke. And I want everything-the independence, the career, the family, the happiness, at levels perhaps others would call me insane. And I can. I told him it’s like a puzzle. Your pieces need to fit. I have to find all the pieces that fit.
At the stroke of midnight I witnessed a heart transplant. Someone died. Someone was dying. A group of world-trained surgeons gave a person a second chance at life. A medical student who was once a naive, little girl dreaming of fixing broken hearts had the privilege of witnessing a medical miracle.
This could not be a coincidence.
She is still deciding who she wants to be. She is still trying to figure out how the pieces of her puzzles will fit. Everyday continues to be a lesson in balance, progress, grabbing opportunities. Sometimes she wishes she could just know the future so that decisions wouldn’t be as hard, but it’s okay. She knows she’s getting closer, twenty-four hours at a time.
To the little girl I once was, look at where we are now. You are a woman. You are capable. This isn’t a dream anymore.