I was walking down the street in Oakland many years ago, picking up some wine for a get-together. As we left the store, we spotted a couple panicking around a stroller. I edged closer and saw them fussing around a beautiful baby boy, dancing around him as if part of a healing ritual. This was before medical school, but I’d had some first aid and wilderness aid training, so I asked if I could help. While someone else ran for a payphone to call 911 (remember, youngsters, this was before cell phones) the mother picked up the child and thrust him in my arms. They said he wasn’t breathing.
I set him on the ground and evaluated his airway, breathing, and circulation. He was a little bit blue. While I was listening for an exhalation, watching for the rise and fall of his chest, he suddenly took a few deep breaths, coughed, and started crying. At about the same time, EMS pulled up and took over. We picked up our wine and went back to the house. We drank the wine.
I’m not sure what made me think of this. Before I started writing I was thinking of various disasters: the GOP primaries, the chocolate bacon cake with maple frosting my X-ray tech baked up. It was one of my first experiences in medicine (my second actually). While I certainly had some of the pre-med fantasies of running around in scrubs saving lives, I knew already that things were much more uncertain. I never found out what happened to the baby boy. He seemed OK. I guess. But I wanted an answer. I asked my dad and other doctors what they thought, even though the information was sparse: doctors like puzzles. I debriefed myself on my actions to see if I had followed proper basic life support procedures. I got drunk.
As I continued through my training, I learned that this was the norm (the uncertainty, not the inebriation). But that’s life, really. We face decisions every day—like whether to finish a piece of chocolate bacon cake with maple frosting—that may or may not carry significant consequences. And we might never know.
We all like answers. PalKid likes to ask me if the characters in books I read are good guys or bad guys. That’s a remarkably hard question to answer. Medicine is full of those sorts of questions.
But this weekend I sort of shoved that aside. Spring is an unmitigated good. The days have been lovely, full of cherry blossoms drifting across the streets, long walks with my family, driving with the sun roof open. The night sky has been spectacular, and the weather friendly enough for star-gazing. I’ve been looking at the night sky since my father pointed out Orion to me a million years ago. I don’t remember seeing Venus quite this bright, and last night’s conjunction of Venus, Jupiter, and an Earthshine-lit crescent moon formed a brilliant triangle (thanks to MrsPal for helping me remember “obtuse”—as it applies to triangles).
So I’ll continue my puzzling days and star-filled nights, watching my child’s wonder at seeing the night sky, taking my wife’s hand on long walks, and breathing the blossom-scented air, full of contradictions.