Sunday, February 23, 2014


I have been sadly neglecting this blog.  With a new job and new baby, this is not very surprising.  However, I am finally starting to feel that I am through the major transition for now and settling into new patterns.  I have time to read again, during the hour or two in between baby’s bedtime and mine.  And a limited-but-still-appreciated time to write during his weekend naps.

Although my theme has been literature and medicine, I have actually been on a non-fiction run recently.  Reading Shackleton’s South has helped put my problems in perspective.  I may have some challenges to deal with, but I am not trying to traverse Antarctica.  I am not struggling to rescue my crew after our ship is crushed by ice.  I am not living on seal and penguin blubber, constantly cold and wet, going months without sunlight, always in danger.

When I start to complain, I should remember: I don’t have scurvy. 

Though not as extreme, medical training does bear some resemblance to the Endurance Expedition and similar ventures.  It includes physical deprivation, lack of sunlight, and some danger.  It is more psychological than physical risk most of the time, but I will never forget the nurse disarming a patient who smuggled a knife into the ER or the resident who saved me from being bitten by a demented patient.

Like Shackleton’s crew, we bring our troubles on ourselves.  They all decided to go to Antarctica.  Many had been before on other expeditions and had no illusions about what might await them.  We may be less accurately aware of what medical school and residency will be like, but it should not come as a shock to find it an intense and rigorous journey. 

What impressed me most about reading Shackleton’s account was not the adventure or survival against all odds but the leadership that made it possible.  Both Shackleton and Wild, his second-in-command, had to make tough decisions to keep their men alive.  They had to keep everyone motivated, hopeful, and ready.  If they had given up, they would have perished.  They set the tone for the entire group. 

Now that I am in charge of residents and medical students, it is important to keep in mind that their motivation, hope, and readiness are under my influence, to some degree.  When I feel cynical or worn out, I can think of Wild packing up camp every morning, looking out to sea, and projecting unfailing optimism that today help would arrive. 

Let’s also raise a glass of orange juice to Frank Hurley (the intrepid photographer) and each crew member who kept a journal on the expedition, despite the burden of carrying equipment and books across the ice floes.  They not only survived the experience but preserved it, reflected on it, and shared it.

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