This past weekend I met up with a few of my former colleagues from residency for dinner and drinks. It felt a little bit like a meetup with high school friends might feel, if you spent high school removing gallbladders and incising and draining abscesses. (Maybe you did. I don’t know your life.)

Having a chance to confront and reflect on my former self in a controlled environment—in this case, a contemporary Mexican restaurant—was not a bad exercise. Part of me was hesitant, as my general feeling towards that time in my life is “thank you, universe, for the opportunity to learn about the world and myself, but also, don’t ever put me there again.”

It’s been long enough that specific memories and people are fading fast (or maybe I just gave my hippocampus permission to let go of those memories), so when hearing specific people’s names or other random things from that time that I used to think about every day, like pagers or atelectasis, I am more likely to have a gut feeling or reaction than remember any particular memory.

Being geographically close to where it all happened (I trained in Brooklyn and still live in Brooklyn), I occasionally see people from my past life unexpectedly. The other day I was walking in the park and heard somebody yell my name. You know that moment when you see somebody totally out of context, like when you’re a kid and you see your teacher at the grocery store, and it takes you a second for your brain to adjust, like, “what are YOU doing here?! Teachers buy groceries too?”? I had to place this person mentally, but in that split second before I rememered they were a colleague in emergency medicine with whom I’d done a trauma rotation, I just had this really warm feeling (which is somewhat unusual because surgeons and emergency medicine doctors aren’t always… um… nice to each other).

When my brain did catch up, I remembered them being a genuinely kind, hardworking person who cared about their patients and always treated other residents with respect, even when it was 3 am and everyone was physically and emotionally exhausted.

Later, I also remembered us dramatically wheeling a patient with an open abdomen to the operating room emergently together. But in that moment, the overwhelming memory was that warm feeling1, and I gave them a big hug and we each went off in our separate directions without any further conversation.

  1. I also realize that, to other people, I’m a blip in their lives with which the only lasting memory is a feeling, so I hope I am living my life in a way that it is a warm and positive feeling, because there are definitely people I’d see to whom my reaction would be more like 😒 or 😑. ↩︎