I had only a week until my final exam in clinical communication skills. A class like this would be, in any other medical school, a course about what questions to ask a patient to collect a relevant history, and how to perform a proper physical exam.
Seeing as how I’m in a medical school in Israel, our clinical communication skills class is partly about exactly those things, and partly about learning how to ask all of those questions in Hebrew. As we move into our last two years of school, we’ll spend all of our time in the hospital, learning directly from patients. That means we’ll have to have some working knowledge of the local language.
So, I had only a week until the exam and I needed to study. I have a good grasp of what to ask, and how to perform the exams, but I needed to practice my Hebrew. Still, I was on my way over to see a friend – Leo, a son of Florida who now lives in Israel — play some music. He’d invited me and my wife to what I understood to be an intimate gathering of friends to see him play a few originals and covers. I wanted to support him, but couldn’t emotionally separate myself from my Hebrew flashcards. With cards in hand, we arrived at the appointed apartment and were told to step out back for the music.
What I saw was a surprise. The entire backyard was covered in rugs and mats with cushions laying on top of them. There was a small bar set to the side and lights interspersed in the space. Leo’s friends were doing a little more than throwing an intimate gathering. And there was Leo, doing a soundcheck, looking happy to be exactly where he was.
My wife and I took a seat on one of the few couches and waited as the garden filled with young Israelis. My flashcards were burning so I took them out and tried to memorize a few more lines. Then the music started and I forgot all about Hebrew.
A few days before Leo’s concert was our school’s graduation. I only know a few of the fourth year students, and I wanted to go and wish them well. But more than that, I wanted to go and see what the end would be like. Graduation was fine. You know how graduations are – unless it’s you or your kid getting the piece of paper, it’s not all that interesting. However, it was something of a light at the end of the tunnel. To be more exact, it was like hearing from someone that there is a light at the end of the tunnel without actually having seen it yourself.
As we draw to the end of our second year, it is harder and harder to keep motivated. We’ve spent so many hours sitting in desks listening to professors and staring at Powerpoint presentations. We’ve spent so many hours coming home, neglecting our families, and sitting at desks staring at textbooks. And we’ve spent a lot of time getting ready for a lot of tests. Though this is what I want to do, and I have no illusions that it should be easy, it does have a way of getting pretty boring… like practicing for an entire year and never playing the game. Even if graduation was not an incredible motivator, it was good to get the message that the game is coming.
Graduation also got me thinking about what it would be like when that day came for me. What will my residency be? Where will I be going to residency? Will I be happy to be finished, or will I feel the previous four years around me melting away and wish I had just a little more time with the people I’ve already grown close to? Will I miss anything about Israel?
I was still thinking about all of it while sat and listened to Leo. He’s got a voice like Chet Baker, with the occasional Beth Gibbons-like stylish flare. Very smooth but with personality. His originals were at times playful, at others they were hypnotic. And occasionally they were tinged with frustration and anger.
I saw Leo’s wife watching him sing, her smile happy and relaxed. My wife sat next to me, excitedly singing along to a surprise cover of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. Everyone around us was enjoying the music as much as we were as they sipped cold drinks and whispered quietly in a language I still needed to learn more of in only a week’s time. But at the moment I wasn’t worried about it, and it occurred to me that this moment was one of those things I’d look back on and miss about this place.
(Feature photo by Kathryn D. Powers)
John Powers was born and raised in Oklahoma. After graduating from high school, he made his way to Massachusetts to study philosophy at Merrimack College. After MA, he joined a volunteer organization and moved to the Bronx to work as a citizenship teacher at an immigration center, as a server at a soup kitchen, and as a liaison to the United Nations for a small NGO. When his term of volunteer service was up he stayed in the Bronx another year and taught sixth grade at a local middle school. Teaching was, by far, the hardest thing he has ever done. Because of that and an itch to write, he moved to the Washington, D.C. area and worked first as an intern, then as a full-fledged reporter at the Washington Times Insight On The News Magazine. After the Washington Times downsized Insight, he rambled up to Maine and worked with the mentally challenged before finally moving back to Oklahoma to work as an editor for two trade publications covering the energy industry. After getting his 401(k) started and gaining 20 pounds in his cubicle, he decided he needed something different. Today he resides in Israel as a second-year medical student in Be’er Sheva. He loves his wife, Jack London and U2.