It sure was nice not to know anything. Those days are long gone.
Before medical school-or even just last year-I didn’t know a thing about disease. What makes you sick, how you can die, how your body can fail on you. And now that I do, it’s a frightening knowledge.
With every new organ we study, I basically learn more ways that I can die. More things that can go wrong, more ways that I can get sick, more complications and symptoms I could have in the future. First with the heart, you can have a heart attack. Duh. But you can also have sudden death-your heart just stops. Or you could have a clot that you have no clue about go to your brain or your lungs or anywhere else and kill you. Then with the lungs, there’s a ton of really nasty diseases that end up in honeycomb lung. Or you can get a number of respiratory infections that’ll do you in. Then onto the kidneys. Plenty of ways those can just stop out of nowhere. And now with the GI, there’s cancer everywhere. (What’s worse, a significant number of these diseases are what medicine likes to call “idiopathic.” That basically means no one has a freaking clue what causes them.)
The funny thing is, for those first 23 years, my risks were always the same, my chance of developing any of these conditions never changed. It’s only that my understanding of them has changed. Hell, my risks have probably decreased now since childhood-I eat better, I get more exercise, I’m much more hygenic-but I still feel like all of them are just waiting to get me. Any inkling of a sore throat jump-starts the thought-process quite well: “Is it strep? If so, am I going to develop acute post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis and start peeing blood? Or maybe I’ll get post-strep endocarditis. Listen. Do you hear a murmur?” This is contrary to the fact that I get maybe one or two sore throats a year anymore, and before that I had so many so frequently as a child and young adult that I got my tonsils out.
There’s some good sides to this, of course-every classmate I talk to washes their hands much more frequently. And I think once I see how rare most of these conditions are, I’ll be less concerned that I’m going to develop Goodpasture’s any time soon.