Thursday, August 11, 2011

OBD, Ethics, and Ray Carver

The Author of Her Misfortune
-Ray Carver

I'm not the man she claims. But
this much is true: the past is
distant, a receding coastline,
and we're all in the same boat,
a scrim of rain over the sea-lanes.
Still, I wish she wouldn't keep on
saying those things about me!
Over the long course
everything but hope lets you go, then
even that loosens its grip.
There isn't enough of anything 
as long as we live. But at intervals
a sweetness appears and, given a chance,
prevails. It's true I'm happy now.
And it'd be nice if she 
could hold her tongue. Stop
hating me for being happy.
Blaming me for her life. I'm afraid
I'm mixed up in her mind
with someone else. A young man
of no character, living on dreams, 
who swore he'd love her forever.
One who gave her a ring, and a bracelet.
Who said, Come with me. You can trust me.
Things to that effect. I'm not that man.
She has me confused, as I said,
with someone else.

Week 2. OBD, or "On Becoming a Doctor," lectures are spaced in-between our hard sciences. They're a varied mixture of ethics discussions, clinical skills and applications, and introductory psych material. Today, for our ethics discussion groups, we read a short story published by a former faculty alum: Abraham Verghese, an infectious disease specialist who found his niche during the peak years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 90s. His patient in the story was Ed Maupin, an American working class homosexual brought in for a severe respiratory infection after developing AIDS. I read the story at 3 AM last night and tried to picture myself in Abraham Verghese's shoes for a moment, speaking to Ed's family of construction workers and his lover outside the hospital. Ambulances pulling up to make drop-offs, paramedics, agitated working class stiffs smoking in huddles on the curb, and one lone gay pariah sobbing amongst a gang of red-blooded Americans. 

We're not treating immortals, after all, he writes. And that, I think to myself...that's why I signed up for this whole thing in the first place. I'm here, finally, after 3 years of waiting and fixating, and this concept of mortality in the dregs of the world still seems tragic to me. 

So I started reading Raymond Carver again. Poet voice of the working class American drunk, died of lung cancer the year I was born. What strikes me over and over again about his work is how his staple theme of losing hope shows you this immensely vulnerable yet somehow redemptive existence that he's navigated for a lifetime. You read it a couple times over and after you get past the initial feeling of wanting to drink yourself into a stupor and then maybe contemplate slitting your wrists, you can't help but feel like he's got a real heartfelt longing to be a better man. And so, ladies and gentlemen--I give you blue-collar America at its finest: the tragic yet self-redeeming men and women I've dreamed of serving since my college days. Or really, blue-collar anywhere. Mortals and filter-feeding scum of the earth, I'll be honored to treat you one day.

"For the world is the world
And it writes no histories that end in love."
-Stephen Spender
(Tagline to Carver's poem)

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