The Grace To Belong

Caroline discovers a place and a people who help her to live her questions fully.

I am currently in my third year of medical school, which means I have finally made the transition from the books to the hospital. And for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Deciding to go to medical school was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. Since I was twelve, I knew I was going to be a doctor. My parents are OB/GYNs, so I grew up on Labor and Delivery. On Saturday mornings, mom would stay home with my two younger siblings while I got to go round at the hospital with dad. We would listen to Billy Joel on the way to the hospital, the nurses would sneak me into the newborn nursery while Dad dictated his notes, and then Dad and I would head to the doughnut shop on the way home, hiding the glazed remnants from my mom.

Since I was a little, I saw the sacrifices they made. Living in Florida, when they were on call during hurricane season, all five of us would camp out in the on-call room. Often, we would be sitting at dinner and one of them would get the call that “She’s 10 centimeters and pushing!” And on several occasions one of them would come home from the hospital in the morning, right as we were piling in the car with the other to head to school. Life in our family was chaotic, but I loved every minute of it, and I soon realized they had the best job in the world: I wanted nothing more than to be a doctor. Now having finally started working in the hospital on my clinical rotations, the question of specialty arises, and I find myself perfectly in between what I thought I would always do and something I thought I would never do: OB/GYN and pediatric surgery.

Even more than just what specialty I will choose, I face many questions. And like never before, everything in front of me pokes and prods at all of them. “What does real end-of-life care look like in an anencephalic kid and how does it differ from a kiddo with Trisomy 13?” “This woman in front of me has 5 children, does not have custody of any of them, and just gave birth to her 6th on the floor of a motel bathroom. How do I best walk with her?” “I don’t offer contraception or condoms, so what do I do in the face of the 16-year-old who already has STDs and admits to currently being sexually active?” “The 2-year-old toddler in front of me has third degree burns on 37% of his body secondary to neglect… how do I face the emotional trauma alongside this child?” More than once, I have called friends crying with a desperation I did not know existed within, voicing for the first time these questions that have gone from hypothetical scenarios we playfully debate over to real faces with names and histories.

Yet, in the face of these dramatic circumstances, two exceptional things have happened in my life. The first is my encounter with Enzo Piccinini. Some months ago I was introduced to Enzo by a friend in the Movement and I was amazed by the witness of this man whose passion for work as a surgeon and passion for Christ coincided. Out of this fascination some of us proposed an exhibit of his life and experience of work for the 2023 New York Encounter. The people I have met through this experience have been a great help in living my questions without reducing anything.

The second thing was a zoom call with Dr. Cara Buskmiller. In the weeks before the Dobbs decision, I received three text messages from three different friends with the same New Yorker interview with Dr. Cara Buskmiller on the possible end of Roe v. Wade and its implications. Dr. Buskmiller is a Catholic OB/GYN, and I found myself hanging on every word I read, not necessarily looking for a particular answer, but rather amazed that she was admitting to the complexity and difficulty of the matter without resorting to a cookie-cutter Catholic answer. One of my friends reached out to Dr. Buskmiller and she replied. A Zoom meeting was coordinated, and we ended up hopping on a call with over fifteen people – both familiar and unfamiliar faces. The discussion was helpful and also uncomfortable, and several people (including my parents) left the call with even more questions and with several points that rubbed them the wrong way. But even with many new questions, I was happy, and what happened after the call was even more revealing of what was happening. In the weeks following that Zoom call, my parents and I had one of the most difficult and beautiful conversations about work we have ever had. Another friend who had attended the Zoom asked to grab dinner to talk about the conversation and to look at what was in front of us from different angles.

I do not know if I am any closer to having answers to any of my questions because it seems like the more I ask, the more questions arise. What I am sure of is that I need my friends to help me look at these questions. I need friends who take me more seriously than I take myself, which has been my experience of this work on the Enzo exhibit and the call with Dr. Buskmiller along with many other examples too numerous to list. This companionship is what brings out the human and does not let the black and white robot take over. This is what helps me live.

I still have no idea whether I will be an OB/GYN or a surgeon. But regardless of what I choose, I will never stop asking, never stop begging for the grace to belong more fully to this friendship.

Caroline, Gainesville, FL