Tuesday, November 15, 2005

No Wanderlust Cedar Rapids Can't Satisfy

Every time I go to work, I pass a billboard for Northwest Airlines with the legend "No Wanderlust We Can't Satisfy," above a picture of a jet taking off. Right after the billboard, I take the hospital exit and drive a few blocks through an uninspired industrial area of Cedar Rapids until I get to "my" hospital. I park in one of the spots that are reserved for ER staff (unless it's a bazaar day; sometimes the hospital has Christmas sales and such, featuring hand-knitted Santa toilet-paper covers, and then no space is sacred; a parking spot could say, "Reserved for Life-Saving Urgent Trauma Surgery," and the little old ladies would still park their Plymouths there)--any way, I park in the lot, then walk under the huge neon "Trauma Service" sign and past the ambulance bay and punch in my code for the back entrance. Then I change into so-flattering Smurf scrubs and go to ground in the ER for ten hours. And Northwest Airlines has, once again, completely failed to satisfy my wanderlust.

That damn billboard makes me think, though. Usually I just imagine where I'd like to be wandering to--the Seychelles, Burma, the Great Barrier Reef, Lamu, Kerala, and the Alps are currently favorite daydreams--but last Friday I started to think about wanderlust I'd chosen not to satisfy even when I had the chance. Specifically, I thought about the time shortly after my marriage when Doctors Without Borders called me for a nine month stint in Afghanistan--and I said no.

Was I crazy? Sometimes I think so. Let's be honest--I almost always think so. How could I turn them down? After all, I was married but my husband wasn't freaked by the idea of my leaving for a while, and I had a job on the Pine Ridge Reservation in SD which wasn't exactly career-enhancing, and I didn't have any children, and I'd always, always wanted to work for MSF. But when it came down to it that time, I did some hard thinking. I had spent the last eighteen months mostly overseas--a year of it working in a hospital across the street from the Ganges in Bihar, which is India's poorest state, and the rest of the time traveling in Nepal and (go figure) Europe. And what I'd learned was that if I wanted to actually do some of that proverbial and elusive good that everyone, me included, always talks about on application essays (and check out DoctorMama.blogspot.com for a hilarious riff on THAT), I needed to understand the culture I was working in. I needed to go somewhere and stay a while, long enough to get a clue about what worked and what didn't in a particular country/situation/hospital. MSF would have given me a chance to do some of that, for sure, but the thing was, I was already working a job where I was needed, on the Rez. Leaving my patients there to go adventuring abroad would have been more about excitement for me than actually practicing effective medicine, because I had put in years already on the Rez, I knew how it worked, and I had a large patient population who were "mine," for whom I was primarily responsible. Chucking that didn't feel right to me. I'd already left them to go to India, and they'd been waiting for me when I got back, and I just didn't see taking off a year later so I could have a cooler resume and better stories to tell. So I stayed a while longer, and probably accomplished very little, but at least I got good at working the system to get people referrals for gastric bypass surgery.

On the other hand--what was I thinking?

Anyway, so now I'm in Cedar Rapids, driving past my billboard every week, and every time I see it I have to work through that decision all over again. And I think I did the right thing at the time, but I'll tell you what: next time MSF calls, say in twenty years after the kids are through college? I'm going, and I'm taking Northwest Airlines.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember having a conversation about this opportunity, we were driving back to PR after a rehearsal amongst the buffalo murals at the Plains Theater. I remember we talked about the difficulties of making such a decision, but the importance of not looking back once the decision is made. So much easier said than done! I have found myself doing that a lot as of late--looking back, despite my internal "best advice." I think such decisions (and their inevitable review or questioning) are most often caught up in issues space, of where you are and where you think you want to be (a la your earlier post). The grass is always greener somewhere else, it seems, at least for me...that and I'm still defining what I want out of life, which for me is very tied to place, I’ve realized. Anyway, I'm rambling. Point is, I am still in your so-called adrift, 20-something wanderlust period and your ponderings resonate here, chica.
Hugs and good beer to you,
p.s. re. an earlier post: thanks for articulating the hard to place feeling I get with praise worship services. It made me think about how what is typically deemed a "progressive" worship style really isn’t all that progressive when considering the lack of depth behind the components.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hmm, Bihari..

consecutive posts about place, belonging and continuity..

what's going on here?

go well

8:57 AM  
Blogger Mike Todd said...

I think life is about chapters. This is the one you're currently in, and the next one will come along, usually unexpectedly. Sometimes you don't even realize you're in it until a couple of pages have past.

Thanks for sharing more of your story.

9:08 AM  

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