August 15, 2016

Health : Views

There's no question that the thing I love most about my job as a primary care provider is the exposure to different people leading lives different from mine.  I meet so many people I would never otherwise come across, and get small views into diverse scopes of life.  I think it's this desire to see things beyond my immediate existence that drives what I pursue in work, and also in my life outside of my job.

As much perspective as this gives, dwelling in the microcosm of another person's life--or really jumping from one to another as I see one patient after another--can sometimes make me lose the larger frame of things.  It's easy for me to get locked into doing one task after another for a patient--calling the pharmacy to see what's covered for someone with minimal insurance, speaking to a specialist to simplify a list of two dozen medications, reaching out to a family member to understand a person's home situation, begging an overwhelmed clinic to see someone for an urgent procedure sooner than a few months later.

Which is why I think it's really important to physically get outside of this space, and experience a different kind of breadth.

Which is one of the many reasons I'm so in love with rock climbing.

This past weekend I took a drive to North Lake Tahoe with a dozen other people, only a handful of whom I knew, to climb. With such a big group of strangers in a place I'd never climbed before, I had few expectations other than to feel uncertain.  What I found is that within the privilege of being outdoors lies an openness that's so often lost in the confines of our daily work.

In the people, I find an easy acceptance of everyone regardless of how each individual climbs and interacts with rock. Some are fearless, others like me are scared.  People appreciate different textures and angles.  But everyone gives to each other as much, if not more, as they take from the experience. Someone will help five other people climb before he goes, sacrificing his opportunities to climb.  Another won't blink an eye at having to fix a beginner's mistakes (mine). We share food, gear, cars, advice, space.

For me, I think it comes from feeling so lucky to be able to see and do things like this.

Because in the physicality of the sport, I find a wide expanse of what's possible.  You really can climb higher than you can see, and it's your own body that takes you there.  You can move upwards on slivers and edges of rock that can't hold anything but the width of your fingers and toes are enough. You discover bruises and scratches over your arms and legs (and your torso that was entirely clothed??) because you got so close to earth.

And in the surrounding nature, I see how much is out there that we can touch and how much that we'll never fully know. M used to say that whenever he saw a beautiful natural thing--a mountain, a wave, a waterfall--he felt compelled to be in it.  It wasn't enough to just see it; he had to climb it, surf it, swim in it.  I think climbing up rock, and seeing the view open in every direction, is the closest you can get to being in a landscape.

Donner Pass, Lake Tahoe. My braver climbing partner is at the top; I'm the spot of blue in the middle. Photo by Timm M.

It also reminds me of what some philosopher once said about never being able to experience things fully and directly, using the example of the sun--you can never experience the sun as it really is because our interaction with it is too intangible and even if it were tangible it'd be too intense; you can only see its light reflected onto other things and feel its warmth, diluted by distance and particles in air.  Maybe it's sombering to know that there will always be something out of reach.  But I like to think that maybe things are beautiful because even only a fraction of the whole can have such impact, and we're left to imagine how amazing the complete image would be.

My favorite physician I met during residency gave us a speech during our graduation in which she said: "You're not here to change people's lives. You are here to witness them."  It's a sentiment that can get buried as I tackle a checklist of to-do's for patients.  But it comes full into view when I put all of myself into scaling a wall of rock and see that at the end of me I'm just witness to this open space, and incredibly lucky to be just that.

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