I trained as a pediatrician at St. Vincents Hospital in the West Village. I think Vinnies was the reason why I stayed sane during residency. If I had to do my residency somewhere in Pennsyltucky, I don’t know if I could have made it. I needed the diversity, the beauty, the history, and the community. I needed the most beautiful neighborhood in the best city in the world.
And the West Village sure had the diversity. All you had to do was hang out in the ER on a Friday night and you’d see almost anything you could imagine. We had the celebrities right next to the well-known neighborhood drunks who made an appearance every weekend. We also treated the Brooklyn poor who were savvy enough to know that Vinnies was just a block away from the Manhattan-bound L train and was far superior than any hospital in Brooklyn.
The one thing about being a doctor I just couldn’t handle is you are the point person for all the horrible things that happen in society. An NYU student jumps from the 10th floor of the library, you see it. In fact, I saw three of those one year. A kid in the projects a few blocks away tries to scale down from the roof of the building to enter his burned down apartment to get his video games, only to have his rope break from the 12th story, you see that too. You see the kid who was riding his skateboard on the sidewalk as his neighbor is mowing the yard who inadvertently runs over a baseball sending it into the child’s head at 300mph, yep, you see that too. Or the one month old who was riding in the back of an SUV on a treelined highway on a windy day that sent a tree falling into her parents in the front seat, killing them instantly. You see it.
The one thing I could never get used to was simply how often babies are born in toilets and left to be found by someone else only to be rushed to the ER and transported to our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Their first breath in this beautiful world is toilet water. This happens more than any of you could possibly think and I would care to remember.
I no longer practice medicine. One of the reasons is because I’m a fairly optimistic “the world is a beautiful place” kind of guy and quite susceptible to my environment and the people around me. As a pediatrician, your world view is skewed toward the horrific. Hell, as any kind of doctor, you’re surrounded by sick people and death. This just wasn’t for me nor was it something I considered upon making my decision to enter medical school. If the vast majority of pre-med students knew exactly what they were getting into when they decided to become a doctor, we’d probably have very few doctors. Naiveté is necessary. But once I found myself in that world surrounded by babies born in toilets and random fatal accidents, I knew I had to do something else. I knew I had to be in a situation that wasn’t so bad for my emotional and mental health. I figured Preventive Medicine made sense— work with healthy people and keep them well. But who pays a doctor to keep you well? Nobody really. It’s estimated that 2% of our healthcare system’s dollars come from preventive measures.
I’m extremely happy with my life and the decisions I made to do both a pediatric and preventive medicine residency. I don’t have to be on the front lines. Not everyone is cut out for that. And I can build systems that help doctors be better doctors and patients be better patients. I can build a platform that makes doctors more accessible, because accessibility is the best prevention. I’m honestly the luckiest man having stumbled into my newfound profession. I’d like to say this was all part of some grand masterplan, but my plan was to create my life by always being on the lookout for opportunities to build things that make healthcare better.
And I can look in awe at those amazing healthcare professionals who are on the front lines sawing babies out of sewer pipes in China. Hug one of them if you know one tonight and just say thank you. They sacrificed a blissfully ignorant worldview that most of us are lucky enough to have, to witness firsthand the shit of the world so they can save others. They are a special breed.