As the lyrics to the Doors song say, “Strange days have found us. Strange days have tracked us down.” Indeed, we live in crazy, scary times. Nearly every night, the lead news story is about global terrorism, domestic mass shootings, gun violence of one sort or another, or our current social and political landscape that can best described as turbulent, to say the least. Politics in this country has completed its devolution from the art of compromise of yesteryear to what can best be considered a comic punchline more than anything of real substance or value. Watching the news and reading about current events only serves to reinforce how screwed up things are. And the worst part is, every day is more of the same with no end in sight. Honestly, it doesn’t really encourage you to jump out of bed in the morning.
I can still remember the things I looked forward to during summers growing up like Saturday morning cartoons, Baskin Robbins ice cream on a sugar cone (I always liked rainbow sherbet), an afternoon playing video games, and the nachos topped with pickled jalapenos I would get at swim meets on Wednesday nights. All share a common thread—simplicity. I think that’s why I love being with and watching my six year old son. He has a mastery of the simple things and seeing him reminds me of what life was probably like for me once upon a time. Some of his favorite things: chocolate ice cream—no mixing with any other flavor or topping; a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles, hold the bacon and the rest of the veg; microwave popcorn while watching a Disney or Pixar movie. Simple, right? Makes you wonder how we go from that level of simplicity in youth to the mess we have to deal with in everyday life.
It’s July now and in medicine that represents a time for new beginnings. For those in medical training, it means the beginning of a year that will draw them one step closer to finishing medical school, residency, or fellowship. For attendings and administrators, it means having to start from square one with a new group of individuals who look younger and younger each year. I’m just beginning my third year of practice and have come to come to realize I enjoy this part of the academic year. It’s a time to emphasize the basics and focus on the things that drew me to a career in academic medicine. It gives me a reason to look forward to getting out of bed during these crazy, dog days of summer. The new interns and residents are anxious to see what each day will bring. They have an uninhibited interest in the simple things surgery offers—getting into the operating room to acquire operative skills, understanding how to work-up and care for patients, and just learning.
I think there’s a lot we can learn from July. It makes me wish the “July Effect” could extend beyond the House of Medicine and give the world an opportunity to hit the reset button each year. Maybe after a couple of fresh starts we all might learn how to complicate things less and enjoy life more. I went to the grocery store yesterday and as I was passing through the baked goods section, I came across fresh s’mores rice crispy treats topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce, baby marshmallows, and crushed graham crackers. I thought my son would love them and so I bought some. When I presented him with this surprise, his response was less than enthusiastic. “Daddy, it’s too much. They are too much when they are all together.” I guess when in doubt, go simple.