Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Independence Day

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 4, 2013

The United States of America celebrates today its independence from the Kingdom of Great  Britain. The liberty in this country speaks to a freedom of speech, a freedom of thought, which we cherish, both individually and as a country. Thinking, using our own brain, to analyze, consider, and weigh options is the pleasure of human existence. Getting to know one’s brain is the journey of life. Being encouraged to do this, depends both on a country that allows this freedom and a family that nurtures it, as well. Gina, forty-two, a fictional patient, reminds me of how hard it is to get into one’s own mind, particularly, if  one is frightened about what’s in there. Gina did everything her mother wanted her to do. She went to medical school, she married at a young age, she had four children, all without any sense of ownership over these decisions. When I ask her why she became a physician she says “because I got into medical school.” Similarly, when I ask her why she had a big family, she says “because I came from a big family.” All of her answers speak to a person who did not actively make hard decisions in her life, but rather behaved in a way in which she passively took the path that she felt was expected from her. It is not that Gina is unhappy with her life, it is only that she feels confused as to how she got to where she is. “Maybe you needed to make your mom happy,” I said. “Maybe,” she responds, “but all I knew was that if  I had the grades to go to medical school, I would be a fool to turn it down. I never thought about what it would be like to be a doctor. I only thought that I should try to get into medical school.” “Where do you think that came from?” I ask, wondering how she took pre-med classes without thinking about whether she wanted to be a physician or not. “My mom thought I was not smart enough to be a doctor, so I wanted to see if she was right or not,” Gina responds. “So you were reacting to what your mom was thinking and not taking charge of your life.” I said, feeling bad for Gina in that moment. “Yes, I was not independent,” Gina says. “I was a little girl in a big body.” Gina says, in a way in which she begins to see how she came into her current life. “Independence can take a long time,” I say, thinking of the long journey towards insight and understanding.

2 Responses to “Independence Day”

  1. Shelly said

    Even though this is a fictional account, it is hard to believe that someone would fall into medicine because they got good grades or they wanted to prove a parent wrong. I mean, lots of people go into other firlds like law, business or teaching because they can’t ghink of anything else to do, but certainly not medicine. Are you saying that Gina was not independent because she unconsciously let her mom “guide” her into her profession? Don’t most young people today take the advice of their parents or guidance counselors when deciding fields of study or universities, etc…..?

    • Yes, that is what I am saying. There is conscious advice taking and there is an unconscious need to please others, both of which can be at play. Understanding both the conscious and unconscious elements is part of the intrigue of middle age, where reflection about one’s major life decisions often happen. Yes, medicine, like any other field, one can do, without any sense of agency or ownership over the path. This marginal sense of agency is an area that I am particularly interested in. Thanks.

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