I lived my life in four-year blocks of time for a long time.
I went to high school for four years, enjoying the studying, the teams, the football Friday nights, the dances, the classroom experiences, the crushes, my first real love, and the teen years. A small mill town in the south. A big fish in a little pond. A girlfriend. A handful of dreams.
I went to college for three years (yeah, I got credit for four years because I CLEP tested out of a year, but that’s a story for another day). I lived in the organic chemistry lab visited by my professor’s Great Dane, studied late at night at the local Krystal eating chili and cheese Krystals, agonized over making enough As to get into medical school, then took the MCAT to make that dream a reality.
I went to medical school for four years. I endured the hell of year one, when classmates drop out after two weeks because it’s just too fucking hard. Most of us made it to year two. We made it past professors that told you no matter how you tried you would never get more than a C (then gave you a B if you were lucky). We made it past anatomy, microbiology, pathology “pot cases”. (No, those were not studying people who smoked marijuana, but looking at the diseased tissues of those who had donated their organs to be placed on carts in formaldehyde filled pots for medical students to study in detail.) We enjoyed electives after enduring the compulsories. We graduated, doctors in name only, not knowing how little about life and medicine we actually knew.
I did a four-year internship/residency/chief residency in psychiatry. I learned just how little Freud knew about people who I now treat who have real psychosis, real depression, and who really kill themselves. I learned more about how to manage and navigate the future systems in my life than I did about the medications available at the time, which is good really, considering that people and systems don’t change that much over the years, but medications become obsolete and get recalled. I learned to work ninety hours a week on very little sleep. I learned who I could trust to have my back, and who would stab me in it. I learned to love my patients for what they would teach me, real things about life and love and sickness and death that no two-hundred-dollar medical textbook could ever show me.
My preparatory years were measured in four-year increments.
Now, we are all gathered on the battlefield of a great pandemic.
There is a virus out there that can infect me, make me sick within fourteen days, and kill me in just a few more. If I am exposed, I must count fourteen days. If I make it that far, then I will likely make it farther. If I don’t, who knows.
I used to look forward to the next four years.
Now, I count myself among the lucky who make it through the next two weeks.