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Thursday, August 14, 2014

"You're American, I presume?"


[originally posted at my old tumblr blog in 2011]
I just returned from a short trip to the Dominican Republic.  I initially thought that the DR was an oversized Cancun, but this trip changed my mind.  My sister - who is currently living there - was my tour guide.  The highlight of the trip was Cabarete.
The majority of the non-locals at the beach aren’t travelers from what I could gather.  They were living/working in the small beach town, and I left the DR inspired as a result of the mostly Europeans’ outlook on life.  
I’m currently finishing my second year of med school, so I brought my USMLE Step 1 prep book with me to the island, and I opened it up on my lap as soon as my butt hit the lounge chair.  A Dutch man approached me, took my book from my hands, and closed it at the foot of the chair.  
Him: “You’re studying medicine, correct?”
Me: “Yeah…how did you know?”
Him: “I was just watching you walk from the restaurant to your chair, and your behavior reminded me of a doctor.  You’re American, I presume?”
Me: “Yeah.  Why?”
Him: “Americans work too much.  I suggest you just relax and enjoy your vacation.”
My book remained closed for the rest of the day.  I played frisbee with a kid on the beach. I shared some jokes with my sister.  Admired the dozens of kite surfers.  Tasted the salt water. Got a sun burn.  Spoke with some locals.  Bought a mango from a Haitian lady.  Soaked up the smell of the sand.
We spend so much time worrying about our happiness in the future that we forget all about enjoying the present.  In med school, the majority of our time that isn’t spent sleeping is spent with our heads in the books.  We complain of the misery, madness, and frustration that comes with the demands of our program, yet we trudge on because we crave a future in which we enjoy financial stability, a dream career, and the respect and admiration carried by physicians.  Yet there are far too many variables at play to guarantee that all of this hard work will bring us happiness in the future.  
On the other hand, we have complete control over our present.  The variables are laid out on the table in clear view.  You can dwell on the negative or focus on the positive.  In the future, your career-driven focus will hopefully pay off.  But it’s not a guarantee.  Taking time to visit friends, write letters, kiss your significant other, savor your dessert, indulge a runner’s high, smile like a unicorn while plunging face first into the waves off the North coast of the Dominican Republic: In the present, there are various devices which can guarantee you happiness.  
When you’re on your death bed, you won’t dwell on the test score or the career status that were part of an indeterminable future.  Rather, you’ll reflect on those little guarantees that you indulged in throughout your ever-changing present.
Reform Yourself.  Tomorrow could end today.


Nathan Riley, MD, is [now] a Resident OB/Gyn at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles.  He writes about food, movement, sleep, relationships, and stress in order to bridge the gap between his patients and evolutionary theory and clinical evidence. You call follow him on Twitter @BeyondtheMD.  He can be reached at nathan@sweatandbutter.com. You can also connect with him on Google+. 




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