It took me three tries to reach the top of my first mountain.
Coming to Greenville from Charleston I was excited about the prospect of mountain hiking with my new classmates. I love the outdoors, and my friends and family will tell you I have a unique proclivity for walking through creeks and streams, so I was very excited to find a group of students who liked to adventure as well. I consider myself a fairly active person, so I thought I would have no trouble hiking. However, on our first few excursions I found I was quite mistaken.
At Table Rock in Pickens, SC there is about a 4,000-foot climb to the top. On my first outing to Table Rock I began with gusto, but quickly found myself out of breath and struggling. With the amazing encouragement of some fellow classmates we finally made it about three quarters of the way up to an outstanding view. It was a great day and I felt accomplished, though my longing to one day reach the top was burning almost as badly as the air in my lungs.
After another similarly failed attempt to reach Rainbow Falls at Jones Gap, I finally reached the top of a trail while climbing to Vaughn’s Gap on the Palmetto Trail. It was not an easy climb for me. Towards the end of the hike every part of me wanted to give up. Each step seemed excruciating and my chest panted its longing to stop. And yet, I have to tell you, climbing up is not the hardest part of a hike.
Upon reaching the top I brushed away the sweat dripping into my eyes to see the world from thousands of feet high. It is a view bursting with feelings. The impossibly intoxicating feeling of standing where the trees kiss the sky, the feeling that you earned this moment and deserve to let the sun hug your shoulders forever, and then the feeling of realizing you can’t, in fact, stay forever. To realize as hard as it is to reach the top, it’s even harder to come down the mountain. It’s difficult to say goodbye to that hard-earned view. The joy of your accomplishments can feel so fleeting compared to the toil it took to earn them, and it’s hard to make peace with that.
As a student, every weekend I climb the mountain of reading I need to prepare for the next week. I arrive in class and am humbled and overwhelmed by how much I still do not know and how far I have left to go. From Monday to Thursday I pant, sweat it out, and sometimes feel that “turn around and quit” feeling I get on hiking trips. On Fridays, I feel like I’ve climbed to the top. I finally understand and I can finally see the world waiting at the top of the trees.
But the next week it begins all over again. I am a stranger to the next trail and have to explore it all over again, one page at a time with careless colored pen marks all over my arms to prove it. And I know it will always feel like this. As a physician the trip will be fun but it will also take constant effort to listen to patients, to care for them, and to be my best for them. That blissful relief of a patient winning their battle with cancer, or accomplishing weight loss, or successfully bringing new life into the world might feel so unfairly brief compared to the moments that “bring you down the mountain.” We will lose patients. We will have to give them heartbreaking news. We will have to carry them through their struggles and we might stumble with the effort. Standing at the base of the next peak may seem daunting in the wake of that. But as with hiking, we will tie our boots, button our coats, listen to the sounds of life rustling through the trees, and carry on, because the view is worth it and it gives us the strength to start another climb.
I’m a lifelong South Carolina resident originally from Clover, SC. In my undergraduate years I spent my days going to the beach and frequently tripping over cobblestones while attending the College of Charleston. I graduated in 2015 with a degree in Biology and Neurosciences and spent a year playing with rats in a neuroscience addiction lab at MUSC before continuing my education. I’m thrilled to continue my tour of the state in Greenville and am enjoying all the great spots to read outside here. I believe USCSOMG has an untouchable sense of community and dedication to patient care, and I’m so grateful and excited to be a part of the class of 2020!
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville