In my tennis playing days I was obsessed with ‘finding my identity’ on the court and sticking to it. This meant if I decided that I was a ‘serve and volleyer’ I would spend my practice time at the net, developing my net game. After matches I would begin my self-evaluation with the question ‘did I stay true to my identity?’ To put this idea in to context, Rafael Nadal would be considered a ‘defensive grinder’ (in tennis), the Seattle Seahawks would be pegged as ‘defensive stoppers’ (in football), and Lebron James would be called ‘a physical driver’ (in basketball). Yes, Nadal has great volleys, and James a top notch jump shot, but if someone were to ask them how they make their living, or what makes them so great at their respective sports, they would undoubtedly respond with these identities. My coach growing up (now my step father) would often repeat to me the counter intuitive idea that when I practice I should work on my strengths as opposed to wasting my time on my weaknesses. For me, since my identity was tied with serving and volleying, when I trained I spent the majority of my time at net, developing my volleying skills.
The reason I bring up this idea is because I believe it applies to much more than just sports; we all have our identities tied with something: for most of us, this identity is our occupation. Let’s say you’re at a cocktail party, after meeting someone what’s the first question you ask them? I often ask, “What do you do?” I, like countless others, mesh this stranger’s self-worth with their occupation. What I’m truly asking is ‘What gives you purpose?’ While for many it may be their occupation, it could also be their family, their hobby, or even a favorite past time. Subsequently, this idea of ‘working on your strengths’ is an idea that I cannot separate from the concept of an identity. For example, let’s say you identify yourself as an art history professor, would it be wise to spend your time studying mathematical theorems and postulates? No, of course not, in fact this is a ludicrous notion; it seems only logical that this person study art history in their spare time. The problem is that we as a society have become so wrapped up in this notion of trying to learn ‘everything’ and become a ‘Jack of all trades’ or a ‘renaissance man’ that our ‘bread and butter’ is often neglected. I am by no means saying that picking up or learning novel activities should not be done, on the contrary, I think learning new skills besides being useful is great for the mind; but if it comes at the expense of an already developed skill or knowledge that is when the idea of developing your strengths becomes important.
Now I think of this because I have spent this week in the clinic seeing patients, a role that I have not been in since March of 2013; meaning I have spent almost two years away from my occupation; instead I have been at home recuperating and becoming a house husband. If I were asked ‘what is your occupation?’ How would I respond? Would I say physician, maybe father of two, or perhaps devoted husband? Right now, I really have no answers. Hopefully in time I will have an answer. Then once I find my identity, I must figure out a way to develop this so I can become the best physician, the best father, or the best husband I can. Careful though, if you identify yourself with your occupation, it does not give you permission to be a bad father or wife, it’s still crucial that you put 100% effort into what you are doing now; just know that thinking about your work while spending time with your children, or your wife/husband while at work will make what you are doing now suffer. Enhance your abilities in the present, your identity, do not try to become more adept at something that you do not spend time on.
This week I began observing clinicians in my office, marking my first patient encounters since the surgery. While I feel slightly rusty when it comes to patient care, seeing them puts me at peace. I’m not sure if it’s because I feel comfortable around them, or perhaps because of my firsthand experience with being a patient myself. My return to the clinic could also symbolize a significant marker in my recovery. Regardless of the reason, the comfort I felt while seeing patients was unexpected yet incredible.
After much deliberation I have decided to release only one article a week. I have decided to do this for a few reasons: 1. With my return to the clinic, I unfortunately have less time to write. And 2. At the end of this month I am slated to write a weekly column titled ‘House Calls’ for the Epidermoid Brain Tumor Society (EBTS, http://epidermoidbraintumorsociety.org/, the website is down at the moment), and hope to merge my blog with this column. I plan to post a daily ‘quote of the day’ that relates to that week’s article, and will release new posts on Wednesdays.
Thanks everyone for your continued support and for following my journey!
On the last day of my surgical rotation in medical school, the surgery attending posed a question to the students: “A patient lays in the ICU, in multi-organ system failure. Does this patient have homeostasis?” All of us thought no, the patient was definitely not in homeostasis. Webster’s dictionary defines homeostasis as a relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism, population, or group. In medicine it’s defined as the ability or tendency of an organism or a cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes. Essentially , it’s a medical way to address balance, as a fancy word seems to grab more attention. Back to his question, when we all answered no, I could almost see a slight grin on his face, as if to say, aha! Gotcha! “Yes,” he told us, “if this patient were not in homeostasis they would be dead.” His thinking was that even though his homeostasis was poor, it was still homeostasis. As you would expect from a group of stubborn future physicians, we all protested his answer, claiming that achieving homeostasis would imply a healthy person walking down the street. Perhaps I am being hard-headed, but I still believe that this hypothetical patient was not in homeostasis. The health of our bodies hang on a delicate balance. For example, the pH of our body (essentially the acidity), if off by a fraction from its normal value can result in protein breakage, and ultimately death. The idea of homeostasis goes beyond medicine and made me ponder its role in my recovery.
—- Balance —-
There is physical balance, which in my case is poor and causes me to struggle traversing what seems like ‘easy’ terrain. But homeostasis in medicine refers to internal balance; balance that cannot be seen with the human eye. There is also a figurative homeostasis, which refers to the balance we each have in our lives. For me, it took this derangement in my body’s homeostasis (which manifested as a brain mass) to attempt to attain homeostasis in my life, balancing work with family. I am not a spiritual person, but in Chinese philosophy and Taoism this idea of balance is put forth by the concept of yin and yang. I believe that to achieve happiness and internal peace this balance must be achieved. Even though my external homeostasis might be off, I’d like to think that my figurative homeostasis is in harmony. The question still remains: what does this homeostasis have to do with you tumor? For me, I often think back to that day this surgeon posed this question to us; this nostalgia has been amplified in my recovery. Life hangs in such a delicate balance, even a 4.5 centimeter mass can drastically change a person’s life. I am grateful though, grateful to be able to reexamine the homeostasis in my life, there are countless numbers of people not as fortunate as me. Have you thought about the homeostasis in your life? Do you have perfect balance in your life ?