When my mother was pregnant, my dad said (or so I was told): “I will put a scalpel in his hands when he is born”. Now that’s a scary thought. Well, whatever… as my kids say. But I can tell you that my most early memories have to do with medical stuff. The earliest memory of a real event is at my grandfather’s hospital bed. It is my only memory of him. The whole place; however, struck me forcefully. It was quiet, whereas in Puerto Rico everything else was always noisy. The hallways were long and empty, whereas I was always floating in a family crowd, or a “herd”, as my daughter says. Looking outside I saw a courtyard with a fountain. Somehow I got the impression that in that place something big and hidden was happening and that it had something to do with me. It was awe inspiring.
The next time I got that feeling was several years later. I was an altar boy preparing for mass and the church was empty. It was that same feeling of something big and hidden happening and related to me. Perhaps, I thought, I’m meant to be a priest. I liked the whole ritual of mass, the preparation , the robes, etc. Luckily I was exposed to intellectually curious priests who had dinner at my house. My father, a lawyer, would engage them in long after dinner debates about, well, whatever… Priesthood did not stand a chance against the deadly combination of hip hugger jeans and halter tops.
During senior year of high school I decided to check out the hospital thing as my “career week” project. My cousin and I went together to the “Centro Medico” under the aegis of a young orthopedic surgeon. I thought he was cool, unlike any of my father’s friends. The patients I remember most were a young man my age who had blown most off his hands when fireworks prematurely exploded and another young man who was paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. It disturbed me. The smell of the hospital got to me. I recoiled from it, but i had no idea what else to do. I kept framing all my statements with “I cannot be a doctor because…” as hapless lovers do prior to falling head over heels.
I decided to attend college in the US mainly to experience first hand the “sixties thing”, except that it was the seventies. I did “pre-med” as a favor to my dad but my heart really wasn’t in it. Although I was specifically the worst French language student in High school, that’s what ended up as my major. There was a “junior year abroad” program in Dijon (France), and I went sophomore year, mainly to avoid the dreaded “Organic Chemistry” nightmare. “Orgo” was where pre med dreams went to die. Going to France instead was the best idea I’ve ever had. Highly recommended. Honors Major in Life University. As a bonus, Medical School in France was easy to get into after High school and you could repeat first and second years until you passed exams. I was sold on going to Med School in France. The family precedent was the example of my uncle who had done Cityboy Life of Sevilla and Med School. My father was sold on the Med School part but not on the “european thing”, so he cleverly proposed that I “finish out” my French major, with a US degree in hand if things didn’t work out in French Med School.
I came back to the US relaxed and fired up because in two years I would be in a French Med School. Full of confidence I took a summer semester of Physics, Organic chem, and French. Everything was flowing and before I knew it I was a French major applying to Med Schools in the US. 1976 was statistically the hardest year ever to get into med school, and I got lucky. I was going to be a doctor, but not “the regular” type of doctor, I was going to be a “man of letters,” polyglot, psychiatrist. LOL.