Starfish

At my high school graduation, one of our valedictorians (there were quite a few) told the 650 of us a story about starfish.  The way the story went is that there is a little girl walking down the beach.  Millions of starfish have washed up on the shore and are slowly drying out in the sun.  Realizing that they are all going to die, she runs up to the nearest ones and starts to hurl them back into the water.  An old lady sees her efforts and stops her.  She tells the girl that she’s being stupid, that she can’t possibly save them all.  The little girl looks up at the old lady and says “No I can’t, but I can save this one.”  She stoops down to pick up one more, and throws it into the sea.

Crazy as it is, that story has stuck with me all through my undergrad years, and played no small part in nudging me towards picking my current occupation.

But this brings me to a second story.

I am currently rooming with two first year medical students and a third year.  I have found I spend a fair amount of time in “discussions” with one of the first years regarding the, ah, nature of medicine.  Talking about how you are so busy, there are so many demands on your time, that it can wear you down.  And that you become kind of callous to the suffering.  But a few weeks ago my roommate went on a weekend medical mission to Mexico, where she saw a young girl with a heart defect that would kill her by adolescence without surgical intervention.  After coming back to the States my roomie spent a significant amount of time calling, emailing and cajoling anyone that might be willing to do the required surgery, getting so far as to get her medical records looked at by an American cardiothoracic surgeon and some charity groups.  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like anyone is willing to take the case.

But she tried to save this girl’s life.  I am nearly certain that I would not have done the same.  And so it gets me thinking back to the starfish and my motivations for getting into medicine.  Thinking on the importance of making small efforts towards small differences that may mean quite a bit to someone else.  There is really no conclusion here.  Just the thought that I’ve changed a bit since undergrad.  I got into this business to help people.  Sometimes perhaps that requires a little bearing in mind.

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