I’ve worked in hospitals since I was 17 years old. I am now 34. From the year 2001 until 2011 I ran the surgery department in a particular county hospital. About 3 years ago and some change I left to pursue graduate school. Fast-forward to now, and everything is different, except for one thing: I am back at that hospital. I started back about a month ago. I did not end up finishing my graduate degree in forensic anthropology (I did about a year and a half). I am not in a completely different field in a completely different city. But the most important and unexpected thing is this… I am glad to be back. If you had told me when I left that I would end up back here, even in the higher-paid position I now have, I would have said something like “I would kill myself”, because I was both unaware of what the next few years would bring and also exactly the kind of asshole that threw around suicide-ey expressions like they were going out of style. After everything I’ve gone through since that time, some good but mostly bad, not only am I back but I’m actually happy to be.
It’s strange. I walk down these halls and I am constantly running into my own ghost. I remember the person I was when I first walked these halls as a 20 year-old girl. Quiet, hard-working, confident, but still reeling from my brother’s death a mere 5 months prior. I would learn a few hard lessons that first year about the people who would surround me for the next 14 years of my life. Surgeons are an interesting breed. Yes, they are all humans and thus cannot all be painted with the same brush, but watch me do it anyway. Although there are ALWAYS notable exceptions the fact of the matter is that it takes a certain personality type to both want to cut into other human beings and to make it through the once arduous schooling and training that it takes to properly learn how (I say “once” because it’s gotten a lot easier in recent years but I won’t get into that). Drive. Ambition. Brains. Ego. A desire for respect and prestige. There are people who become surgeons entirely because they genuinely want to help people but I imagine they make up the same percentage of people who become cops to help people and not out of a desire to have power over them. As in, a small one. Aside from all of that they can also be funny, sweet, crude, socially awkward, generous, dickish, any combination of those things or any other thing you can think of…it is just that they tend to have those first traits in common.
Some are wonderful people and some are assholes. In my first year here one of the assholes sensed my grief stupor and took advantage of it- something that would not have been possible a year before or a year later, and after that I learned to be on my guard. I grew up in these halls. My department ended up being my second family. The handful of surgeons who worked here full-time (most were residents and thus rotated through only a few months out of the year) were wonderful to me. I made so many friends; some close, some temporary, some serious and some just for fun. I was treated amazingly well, paid decently, and allowed to work my school schedule around my job. Working with surgeons suited my personality perfectly because I was also egotistical, driven, and had the mouth of a sailor. But being someone who always pictured myself running the world, I knew I was destined for bigger things. Then suddenly one day I wasn’t destined for bigger things. One day I woke up and it was all I could do to face my life. I began to live in survival-mode. Forget bigger things, if I could make it through the day then I was doing okay. After spending 6 years of my life with someone who I thought was it for me, I went through about the worst breakup you can possibly imagine- at the same time I was moving, leaving a job after 10 years, and attempting grad school. It was the perfect storm and after 30 years of watching family members suffer from depression and finding myself untouched by it, it finally rained down on me like hellfire. During the next 3 years I became unrecognizable to myself. My priorities changed, my confidence plummeted, my energy left me, I stopped exercising or giving a shit what went into my body (whether it was food or people), I gained weight, and I drank like an old-timey doctor was on his way to saw off my arm.
I left graduate school because I stopped caring about it and also because I was on so much medication my once sharp memory was a thing of the past. I ended up going back to work at a different hospital because there were these things called bills I was expected to pay but I hated it. I missed a lot of work (“I wouldn’t say I’ve been MISSING it, Bob”). Then one of my dear friends decided shooting herself in the head was a better alternative to being on this planet. I did not see it coming. After that I spent time admitted to a place I affectionately called “crazy camp”. Now that was nice. People told me what to do, where to go, gave me the correct meds at the correct times and the hardest thing I was expected to do was not sleep all day. Unfortunately you cannot stay at those places forever. I finally left my job and fled to Hawaii where I wish I could say I found myself or some mystical answer to life, the universe and everything, but no such luck. I did, however, find a little slice of peace. It wasn’t a lot but it was more than I had found in years so it was something. I ended up having to return home (those pesky bills again) and I was terrified things would be exactly the same as when I left. But somehow they weren’t. My depression began to lift, for one thing. After being under the most crushing weight I had ever felt in my life just having it be gone was incredible. I looked down and noticed that I had put my body through hell and amazingly, I started to care about that again. I began looking for a job and all of a sudden there it was- an opening back where it all began.
I was anxious about coming back. I’m a different person than the one who left and I was afraid my old friends would be disappointed in me or judge me. For not finishing school, for coming back, but mainly for not being the same excited, ambitious girl who used to run their lives. But then I started working here and running into them into the halls and not only did those things not happen (that I am aware of) but I also realized that I honestly, completely would not care if they did. I no longer have anything to prove. The thoughts that drove me in the past: the fear of failure, the desire to impress everyone, the need for validation, those things are gone. I’m not only proud of myself for surviving the past few years but I’m also just so damn relieved to not feel hopeless anymore that not much outside of my own self can currently bring me down. Goddamn is that a good feeling.
So what’s left if you take that away? Well for one, it’s nice to know where the bathrooms are. I know what is good in the cafeteria and who to call depending on what is going wrong at the moment. The familiarity takes the pressure off of a new job and makes it feel safe. Like a homecoming. Instead of feeling like the failure I would have expected to feel like, I feel gratitude that I know what I’m doing and that I am not currently miserable. It’s not that I no longer have goals but more that those goals have shifted greatly. Make my body healthier, do a good job, try to be a better person. Maybe write a book. I walk through this hospital and I feel no dissatisfaction with the walls the way I did when I was in my twenties. I feel nostalgia. I grew up here, I made friends here, I fell in love here. I did naughty things in many, many of the rooms. I helped people who (please don’t tell them I said this) save lives. I was part of something special and that was nothing to take for granted, although I certainly did. That is perfectly okay because I had to leave to grow up enough to realize that. Because whether good or bad, time keeps marching on and us with it. We all change and I was no exception. I no longer have the desire to rule the world, I will settle for living in it.