Free at Last

In seven days the calendar will click over to 10/1/2011 and a joyous occaision will commence. You probably think I'm writing about Elliott and Katie's wedding, and it is true that it will be a joyous occaision. Shaleah and I cannot wait to see everyone and take part in the happy festivities. But that is not what I'm writing about today, because while 10/1/2011 will be Elliott and Katie's wedding day it will be an anniversary of sorts for me.


I began work at Central Nebraska Medical Clinic on 10/1/2007 but before we get too deep into that history we have to go back even further to the year 1997 when a young me was graduating from high school and interviewing for the RHOP program at Wayne State College. The unfortunate thing about being 18 years old is that you have no idea who you are.

I knew a few things about myself. I will recount them here in a sort of calculus that explains my ignorance. I knew that I loved science and I was fascinated by an article about the HIV virus I'd recently read in Time magazine. I knew that my mother wanted a BMW but could never afford it with her teacher's salary. I knew that I was fascinated by computers and I loved reading back issues of Macworld magazine and taking apart our old Apple II and reading the labels on all the chips. I knew that I hated my job as a CNA at the local hospital. I knew I loved playing around with the graphing function on my TI-85, and I knew that I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

What I didn't know was that it wasn't wrong to not know the answer to that question when you are 18.

Now let me recount some of the things, I thought I knew but which turned out to be flat-out wrong. I thought I was bad at math. I thought jobs involving computers were all done by people who were great at math. I thought other healthcare jobs would be different than being a CNA. I thought my mother needed me to buy her a BMW. I thought I wouldn't be able to afford college without scholarships, and I thought that being a physician was mostly about putting science into action. But more than that I mostly didn't think at all about the future. I just was in the way that teenagers are.

The problem with naiveté is that you don't know when you are wrong. A thousand days I've wished for a time machine to go back and meet my 18 year old self and just tell him a few things. I wouldn't need more than a few seconds. I would simply explain who I am and tell my young self to not make any decisions about what to do with his life until he's had a few years to decide what his obsessions are. Then turn his obsession into his job. As a parting bit of advice, if given a few more seconds I would say, "Never take money now in exchange for your time later. Time is not money. It is always more important than money."

I killed it at that RHOP interview. I was going to be a doctor.

Our Protagonist Disregards His Own Advice

Fast forward a few years and I'm 20 years old but I have no more self awareness than I did when I was 18. In retrospect the signs were obvious. I spent most of my time in the basement of the library at Wayne State College, but not studying Biology or Chemistry or even Scientific Greek and Latin. I was in the basement among the stacks of books that no one ever read. In the corner reading books about Unix when I should have been studying something related to my major. When I wasn't in the library I was either in the computer lab or in my dorm room configuring some obscure piece of software or recompiling a Linux kernel. As I look back on it the obviousness of my ignorance hangs on the wall like Checkov's gun.

Forget about what I said regarding the time machine earlier. If I ever went back I would slap myself about the head and scream, "Look at what you do with all your free time. Why are you stubbornly pursuing something you don't love?"

I graduated in 2000 with a B.S. in Chemistry and matriculated to the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Our Protagonist Sells His Soul, But Cannot Play the Fiddle

The rest of the story involves me repeatedly disregarding the first dictum of finding yourself in a hole. The punchline is, of course, "stop digging." But in some vain and misguided attempt to reach China I would progress on to accepting a yearly loan from Nebraska Health and Human Services in exchange for practicing for 4 years in a designated primary care shortage area, graduate from medical school, start residency in Colorado, move to rural Colorado and complete residency, and then move to Nebraska and start work as a family physician in a designated primary care shortage area.

It was during this time that I made what I consider to be my only correct decision. I met Shaleah Jones and through some miracle I managed to marry her on July 22nd, 2006. The reader, if she hasn't given up already, will likely note that I would have never met Shaleah if I hadn't done my internship in Greeley, CO from 2004-2005. I will readily admit that if all my mistakes resulted in that, then I cannot call them mistakes. I like to think I would have met Shaleah in a parallel universe where I didn't make those mistakes but scientifically the probability of that is miniscule at best.

But as people are very fond of saying, "It's never too late." Someday those people will be wrong. It probably is too late when you are dead, but I'm not dead yet, so with the support of my wonderful wife I'm setting to work on finding my niche, and I won't stop until I'm proud of myself.