"Plan your life, but make allowances for serendipity."
This was how the great Dr. Ernesto Domingo ended his talk during our Adult Medicine Conference (aka Tuesday's with Tony) two weeks ago, when he was asked to shed some light on the many career dilemmas an internal medicine resident has at the end of his or her training.
I have always been fond of the word "serendipity", and although I had quite a good idea what it means, I have never really pondered its entirety. I can enumerate many serendipitous scientific discoveries that have changed the course of the world: penicillin, nitric oxide and recently, Viagra. So after Dr. Domingo's talk, I didn't wholeheartedly pursue the meaning of this word. Until today.
According to the trusty Wikipedia (degree of reliability unknown), serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. Interestingly enough, the word has been voted as one of the top 10 English words that are hardest to translate. I looked up the thesaurus but there's no appropriate synonym, not even one that comes close. In Wikipedia, I also found several quotes about it:
"Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for." - Laurence Block
"Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for." - Glauco Ortolano
"Serendipity is when you find things you weren't looking for because finding what you are looking for is so damned difficult." - Erin McKean
Why the sudden fascination for this word? Today, I think I stumbled upon serendipitous lines.
Let me walk you through the crossroads of my vocation.
April 1997. Scenario: Jean not wanting to go to UP College of Medicine but preparing for admissions interview. Wanted to go to UP Diliman with her high school friends instead.
Papa: Why do you want to be a doctor?
Jean: (Just to piss him off) I want to be rich.
Papa: (Disappointed) I didn't bring you up to think that way. Remember, you are what you are now because of the people who need you. You're supposed to do something good, make yourself better so you can help people.
I went to medical school.
August 2003. Scenario: IM rotation. Jean, who has decided to go to Surgery or Ortho, is JAPOD. Very toxic service. Service senior getting married and going on leave.
Junior resident: Our senior has gone on leave and our other junior resident has decided to quit.
Jean: Now sir?!? How can she quit when we have 16 patients and we are admitting today!
Junior resident: That's why you have to help me. I need you to do more than the usual JAPOD. I'm giving you 3 patients to co-manage.
Jean: (silently) Whaaattthe?!?! Uhhmm, okay sir, I will.
I fell in love with Internal Medicine and went into residency.
August 2007. Scenario: Time to choose the new chief resident. Nobody else wanted to get the job. Batchmates badgering Jean to get it.
Non-IM friend: I heard they're making you chief resident. So, are you taking it?
Jean: Me?! No way! I can't even talk to people, I'm so scared and disorganized, and the outgoing chief is just so good!
Non-IM friend: Oh, that's hard. But, hmm, I just never thought you're the type who'd say "no" to a chance to do something good.
I took the job and became chief resident.
Based on my brief career history, short, seemingly insignificant remarks have created tremendous impacts on my life. Words of wisdom that were unsought for, made by the most unlikely people unexpectedly altered my course. All in a good way. Today, I've again been blessed by those serendipitous lines.
Today. October 16, 2008. Scenario: Sixty days before ending chief residency. Jean doesn't know what to do next, contemplates going home, but is very scared. Talks to favorite consultant (big time, huge name in the field).
Dr D: I'm so excited for you. You can do so much there.
Jean: But knowing me sir, I'd probably just go back. I will miss PGH after some time. I will need to be with UP. So expect me to be back again in utmost a year.
Dr D: I'd bet against that. The way I know you, you will stay there. And you will start something new - something good, that UP will look for you because it will need you.
Jean: But what if I become just another shark in the ocean sir?
Dr D: Haha! I'm sure that will never happen.
Let's see how this one will turn out. Yesterday, I had one foot in the door and the other one out, and I was so scared. Today, I'm bringing my other foot in as well. Instead of being terrified, I am now more excited for new possibilities.
It's a fantastic feeling. Somehow, during our life's crossroads, God has a way of speaking out loud through these "serendipitous" lines. Indeed, I am very grateful. Because all the time, He has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.