April 19, 2018 – Day 284 of 371. I have crossed the threshold of nine months, moved through three new countries and returned to one old in two weeks, and have officially bought my return ticket home. All throughout this time, I have been continuously riding the wave that is this year and being sure to soak up every last drop. Below you will find my last reflection sent to the Watson Foundation prior to returning home. In it I describe my ever-growing deeper understanding of what this Watson Year truly means for me and what is coming up in my final chapter abroad.
“I was happy and knew I was happy, the happiest I’d ever been. Not blissful, joyous, angels-coming-out-of-the-clouds happy, but happy as in ‘a feeling of great pleasure or contentment of mind, arising from satisfaction with one’s circumstances.” Happy from hap, as in what happens—things as they turn out to be.” – Victoria Sweet, excerpt from God’s Hotel: a Hospital, a Doctor, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine.
Watson, if there was a way to quantify how many times I have found myself walking down a street in Thailand, a Soi (alley) for that matter, feeling a grin creep across my face, bursting into a smile I literally cannot contain – emotions overflowing to the point where I can do nothing more than to raise my hands jubilantly in praise, admiration, and most of all, thanksgiving, this letter would not end. Rather, I will leave it to your imagination the imagery of a very blonde-headed Farang (foreigner) wandering the back alleys of Bangkok and Chiang Mai doing such things. That was me. I have walked these streets, whispered to myself, “I love this life” and realized again, and again, and again that, this. This life. This year. This World. Is. So. Good. Although I leave Thailand today, the emotions which grew inside me there will undoubtably continue as I transition onwards, along this rich and full life given to me. Watson, does it have to end? I mean this, this life, all that this year holds. I do not want it to end. I have asked myself these questions on numerous occasions in the recent weeks. I think the most beautiful thing I’ve learned in this past quarter is first, the realization that I do not want this to end, and second, the subsequent answer to myself, that no, it does not have to. In fact, it is quite the opposite: it will not end, but continue, as the movements and experiences of this year weave themselves into the life that is to come for me. It will permeate all walks of my life – within myself, my relationships, my career. I will be moved, just as I am now, by what has come (and thankfully what remains to come in these last three months). During my Third Quarter, I read God’s Hotel, by Victoria Sweet, who accounts her career at Laguna Honda Hospital, the U.S’s last Almshouse, a long-term patient-care hospital. In the process of her writing, she accounts both the historical origins of medicine, as well as the journey in which she undertook during her career, both personally and with patients. Finishing this book in the midst of all the emotions described above could not have been more perfect, and thus I am choosing to share a few of her quotes – not only has her writing stuck with me, but I deeply resonate with her words, finding the descriptions and the emotions of her experiences reflections of my own.
First, a brief recount of all things Thailand. Arriving to Bangkok, I gave myself a few days to adjust to the drastic time change, while finalizing future internship plans within the city and in the north. Soon after I took a trip to Krabi, Thailand to first see the southern part of the country. I wasn’t sure whether my future plans would bring me back south, and thus I tried to see all I could in the time I had. I had just written in my last report that I had been finding the importance in separating my life from my project; however, arriving in Krabi, I came to realize what I had just written was indeed the opposite of what I was experiencing. My eyes have slowly been tuned to look towards my project – of course in the hospital and in the ambulance, but they too have attuned themselves to the streets, the passer-by’s, the clinics advertising themselves to foreigners rather than to locals, the families of four all positioned on one motorcycle: daughter in front, dad’s arms wrapped around driving, mother holding with one hand, cradling their baby in the other. “Care.” The relationship I have with to that word, that people in these communities have to it, that this country as a whole has to it is no longer separated to a project day or not, a “project activity” or not; they are both, simultaneously. Each day I am called to the opportunity to both seek out the questions I hold within my project and the questions I hold within myself. Returning from Krabi to Bangkok, I had about two weeks on my own before starting an internship with a local organization. Having hoped to set up a few contacts with emergency services in the city, I continued to face a few setbacks and had to reorient myself. These two weeks turned out to be time for much needed preparation – intermixed with sightseeing and learning about beautiful Bangkok and beyond. As I would soon find, time to do both of these things would soon come to an end.
At the very beginning of February, I started working with a local organization that provided access to, among other things, hospitals within Thailand as a form of Medical Internship. Beginning in Bangkok, I spent two weeks in the Department of Surgery at one of the larger teaching hospitals in the country, named Thammasat University Hospital. Following those two weeks, I transitioned to the Department of Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine at Sirindhorn Hospital, where I felt I really began to come alive in my comfort in seeking out new opportunities to learn from the doctors on call. Ending all too soon, I was able to get to know the local Thai coordinators, spend good time with them and their friends. It was during this time I felt like I was not only starting to meet people from here, but building relationships with them as well. Near the end of February, I traveled north to Chiang Mai – having first a few days to explore the city and surrounding mountains (boy, did I miss them!). I stayed at the most incredible hostel and met the most incredible people, who also would soon change my Thailand experience into what it is today. Later, I spent a week in a private hospital through the same organization; I got a glimpse of the private sector of health care, and then transitioned to a fourth Hospital in Thailand for my final two weeks of interning. During that time, I spent one week with nurses in the Department of Pediatrics and one more in the Department of Orthopedics. Throughout my time in Chiang Mai, and with the help of the new friends I created, I learned more about the rescue operation services, namely the various volunteer organizations who operate in the area. On two weekends, I joined the Pingnakorn Rescue Civil Defense Volunteer Corps. Waiting at a gas station, beside a friend’s stall of street food, we relaxed by a pick-up truck and waited for calls to sound off over the radio waves. I celebrated my birthday by making an offering at a local temple with good friends, spending a day at the hospital, getting a massage, running through beautiful landscapes, and taking a pause for some fun celebrating in the evening with new, now eternal friends. It all came and went so quick; I took a surprise trip to Bali, Indonesia, getting to see the sights of the islands, and really loving the brief, yet significant interactions I had with those who lived on the island and returned for one final week to welcome my sister on her spring break. Blasting through the north and south of Thailand, we were adventuring non-stop, but most significant was the opportunity to show her those who have imprinted something special on my heart. It meant so much to be able to share a large piece of what has made Thailand the way it was, and for her to see me “in my element” was a perfect way to close.
I had mixed feelings going into my internship. I was weary of being “stuck” with one organization for too long, as has been encouraged by you all, but was comforted in knowing I had set plans in the time ahead of me. What would I learn through a surgical room about patient care? And the community? That was tough, but soon I was able to find new opportunities in the ample access I had to health care personnel. My time in the hospital not only allowed me to see new aspects of health care, but it also gave me time to communicate with those who work on the “receiving” end. Ambulances bring patients, hospitals receive. Care doesn’t end in the ambulance, nor does it when the transfer to the Emergency Room occurs; it permeates into the hospital, throughout it’s corridors, back out the door, and far too often back in again. These weeks in the hospitals have also revealed a huge, but exciting new avenue of pursuit for me. Public health, specifically, with a global focus. I cannot wait to get started on my medical degree upon returning; however, the sights and questions that have come to me along this year have caused me to also seek out a deeper understanding of our Public Health, and the relationship we have to it. It excites me to be coming out of this year, with a new piece to the puzzle that I aim to fit into the journey ahead.
“A pilgrimage is a journey for spiritual reasons, but with a material goal—a shrine, a church, a mountain. It comes from the Latin word for pilgrim, peregrinus, from per ager, meaning ‘through the territory.’ A pilgrim, therefore, is someone who leaves home to travel ‘through a territory’ that is by definition, ‘not home,’ and so has the wider meaning of alien, foreigner, stranger…The pilgrim leaves home in order to experience being a stranger—speak a different language, eat different foods, encounter different expectations—to experience otherness as the other.”
Reading this first, the only word I could find was, yes, a thousand times, yes. Each day brings a new journey. I have learned that there are days I plan to be great, but turn out the opposite, and there are days that I expect to be long and slow, yet they turn out to be absolutely wonderful. On a Pilgrim’s Journey, or on a Watson, there is no telling what the day will bring – yet I do know that the next day comes, and the one after that too. Each day brings something new. At times that newness comes in the form of direct involvement with my project, and sometimes it shows itself to me in new friendships – some of which I long to return to. Still on other days, I find that quiet solitude I have come to know and love, perhaps via biking through back alley streets of Ubud, Bali seeing every smiling face look at you while you smile back at them, or on a solo trip north to run a half marathon and high-fiving other runners as we pass each other in opposite directions. How am I growing? Well, I think I am learning to live into this year for what it is – much more for what it is than what I want it to be, and it is through this that I find myself walking down that street smiling and throwing my hands in the air. My eyes have been increasingly opened wider to the people around me. To the man on the street I always go to for delicious food – the friend who affectionately calls me More (Doctor) as a nickname, or the other who says I am Uncle Marky-Marky after her pregnancy reveal. This quarterly report feels a little different than previously; there is no long list of the things I’ve learned, or numerous new questions that have come to mind. Perhaps that is because those initial things I was learning, I know I still am, and those questions I first posed still remain, but it’s the synthesis of it all that I am finding within these three months. A Pilgrim’s Journey indeed brings new truths, and leaves you with more questions, but as one continues, I think the Pilgrimage also teaches you to at times just move “through the territory,” “to experience otherness as the other,” but most importantly to live into the idea of hap, the Latin root of happy, “as in what happens—things as they turn out to be.” As the third major leg on my Watson Year closes, the third leg of my pilgrimage closes too. I walk away having learned to live into this, this life, this world. Perhaps too that will be one of the greatest gifts of all. The future will not always include plane flights to new, unforeseen destinations, to new cultures, new food, and new people. No, this life will include long hours in the library and hard nights in the hospital, but how wonderful it is to know I can carry this mindset with me as I continue along this year. To know I do not have to leave it at the gate when I cross back over to Europe now, or Tanzania later, or home in the now not so distant future. To have had my eyes opened to this, I am grateful, to you, Watson, for the opportunity, and to Thailand, and her people, who I believe truly helped open my eyes to see these things.
So, whats up ahead? Well, it looks pretty jam-packed to me, and that is so exciting! Leaving Thailand was one of the hardest goodbyes I have had to make, but I leave knowing I also get to return to a familiar place, and a family who helped begin this year for me. I am in transit now towards Copenhagen. With Visas ended in Thailand and the conference not beginning until next week, I have a few days in Transit through Europe as I make my way North. Landing in Vienna, Austria, I will see over a few short and sure to be fast moving days Vienna, Budapest, and Berlin, ultimately arriving in Copenhagen on the 15th of April and staying until the 21st. Leaving then for the UAE, I will first stay in Dubai and later to Abu Dhabi to get to know one of the major Emergency Rooms and Ambulance system within the city. On May 5th, I will depart for Tanzania, where I have planned the remaining two months of my time as a Watson. Beginning first in Dar, I will be involved at the Emergency Department at the National Hospital, and hopefully tap into the rescue services there as well. As time grows, I will move outwards through the country and north towards Arusha. There really are a lot of great things in the works – much of which I have reflected upon and wondered how so much has come together all at once. Thinking first that I just had better “luck” than the slower paced days of Denmark and some of Chile, but realizing more now it is the experiences from both of those places that taught me to pursue what I have in Thailand and what I am soon to do so in the countries to come.
The Watson is not only a Pilgrimage, it is a Way, a clear Way of life that pulls on the things you once knew, drags you both willingly and unwillingly all the same into the thick of it all, and yet still posits you on the cusp of something truly, inexplicably great: that is, everything else – life and all that it has yet to hold. Through these nine months I have ebbed and flowed between highs and lows, and just about every emotion in between. In the last three months, I have awoken each day with an energy I once did not know I had; I have, glanced at the world and wondered what the heart beat sounds like of my neighbor across from me, I have gazed out upon beautiful landscapes and asked myself how we all got so lucky to have this Place, and I have looked inwardly to myself and discovered more about myself than I could have ever thought.
“But no matter what the interior quest, the Way was a way of life, and what he wished for us was that, with the sound of our footsteps, whatever we were seeking would fill us to overflowing.…The thing about a pilgrimage is that there is no way to experience it except to do it. In that way it is very much like life….So nothing went by us too quickly; we were not tourists but actors in a landscape made to the measure of our footsteps.”
“We were not tourists, but actors in a landscape made to the measure of our footsteps.” My experience as a Watson could almost be entirely summed up into that final sentence. On some days those steps are quite small, sometimes they do indeed look like a tourist, but on other days they are big, they bound, even leaping at times into this world with people I never thought I would meet, with sights I never thought I would see, with questions I never thought I would ask. Watson, This. Is. So. Good.
Happy Spring from Copenhagen. I wish that you may be well wherever you find yourselves. Thanks for checking in.