I look into empty corners of the windowless office, blowing away the dust that has settled between occupants, scraping the desk on the carpet as I heave it to a friendlier position. The structural transition of my new office is complete. There is a lockable desk, lock generally unused, with a few drawers containing my administrative introduction to my job which I once studied passionately and now have completely forgotten. I asked to have the large file cabinets removed – there is so little that we document on paper these days, the written words happened upon only when searching for something else, the multicolored paper tabs denoting and subdividing nostalgia. There is a red bookcase, empty except for the brave bamboo plant thriving on the shelf, and a colorful postcard with sage mentoring tips to guide me through my next days and years.
In this new life, with this opportunity, I sometimes feel like I am stepping over a doorway whose frame is just a bit too high for my reach. Still, I know that there have been long years of training that have coalesced into stepping stones, and people on the other side of the doorframe generously reaching through with an extended helping hand. This is only one of a series of doorways. Some have been brightly painted and welcoming, with solid oak frames and shiny brass doorknobs. Some are rusted shut, with evidence that their moments of use were long ago, their timber warped with old regret and missed opportunity. There are others, coveted yet hidden by deep vines, that open, wondrously, only after the thick brambles have been cleared from before them.
Once open, I want to traverse each doorway gracefully, knowing well that there is an audience just beyond the door, faces alternately friendly, encouraging, skeptical and disparaging. My face often mirrors their skepticism. How am I to fluidly cross this barrier – this transition from today to tomorrow? From novice to expert? From fellow to attending?
The reality is that any transition is not generally graceful, mistakes grease the hinges, and pure effort clears the path to opportunity.
Once again, I find myself at the beginning of this change. I have trekked across the country, over months and miles and marriage. I have been here long enough to learn just how generous the people in my new workplace are with their time and their solicited advice, how quick to smile and share their help. I have drawn up plans and calendars and grant outlines, seen patients and broken bad news. I have created a routine for myself. And yet, my office is still bare.
I have learned that it takes time to settle into a new space. Today, the corners of my office have bits of green from plants designed to perfume and filter the air. My white coat hangs on a hook, my father’s photography is up on one wall. As the months go by, as my boxes arrive and I meld my old life into the new, I expect that the tokens of my training and the evidence of my progress will begin to fill the walls and shelves. The wooden card holder, purchased during my fellowship, will occupy its place on my desk, my medical school diploma will adorn the wall, and the new stethoscope bought just last month will occupy the pocket of the new white coat that bears my name and my new institution. I imagine that, soon, there will not be a corner left to contemplate, and any extra time will seem fleeting. Until then, however, I look at the empty spaces with hope – that when they begin to fill with study protocols and patient charts and failures and successes, I will be as grounded and gracious as those mentors standing before me, with hands extended through the open door.