For a long time when asked “Why medicine?”, I responded, “Why the moon?”
This answer references John F. Kennedy’s address at Rice University in 1962. There he presented America’s goal to go to the moon as a worthy pursuit, “not because [it was] easy but because [it was] hard.” I told others and myself the reason I wanted to practice medicine was, as Kennedy put it, “because [this] goal will serve to organize and measure the best of [my] energies and skills.” To me medicine offered an outlet to reach my potential. It wasn’t until my second year of medical school that I questioned my motivations.
On November 18th, 2017, my son, Stein, entered the world. His course would prove to be anything but easy. Stein was born cyanotic; code blue was called soon after his delivery leading to the medical team frantically working to revive him. As I watched his vital signs insidiously drop, I realized that I may never get to know him. It was hard to believe that only hours before I had felt a profound joy in anticipation of his arrival; this joy now was replaced with immense despair. I wept as I wrestled with the idea of losing him. I will never forget the relief that I felt after Stein was stabilized.
Due to the complications surrounding Stein’s birth he earned a stay in the NICU. During his stay, he coded an additional two times. The medical team was once again there to bring him back from death. After all of Stein’s medical issues were resolved, he was discharged from the hospital on Christmas Eve. My wife and I recognized this as a small miracle; we were able to spend his first Christmas as a family in our home.
Unfortunately, Stein’s medical journey did not end with his discharge on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, I noticed that Stein’s breathing had become labored. The following day we took Stein to his pediatrician, where he was diagnosed with RSV. He was admitted to the ICU at Primary Children’s Hospital where he rapidly decompensated, requiring the support of a ventilator. Over a seven-day period Stein required more support than a standard ventilator could provide; he was dying. The decision was made to add additional support in the form of ECMO (an artificial lung).
With some hiccups, ECMO proved to be the silver bullet that gave Stein’s little lungs time to heal. After ten long days on ECMO support the instrumentation was surgically removed and Stein began to breathe again. He had beaten the odds. He survived.
Why medicine? If asked prior to November 18th, 2017 I would have answered, “Why the moon?” I have come to understand that medicine is much more than a venue for me to direct my energies and skills. Why medicine? Because medicine grants a setting to save lives. To provide second and third chances. Medicine has allowed me to keep my family. Medicine will allow me to help others keep theirs. Without medicine my son would not be here today. Without medicine his story would have been written in an hour. Medicine presented him a second and third chance to live. My life will forever be indebted to medicine.