Posted by: RC | July 29, 2010

Dinner party

In college I studied the origins on monotheism in Jewish Civilization. It was fascinating. We looked at ancient documents, compared them with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Old Testament, and other contemporary writings to synthesize what was actually going on back then.

The professor I had most often was equally fantastic. One time he snagged himself with a hangnail while imitating Gollum as a demonstration of the Golem from Hebrew tradition. He was adamant that the best reason to try hard in college was so that you could one day be interesting at a dinner party full of strangers.

After college, he said, many of you will get generic comfortable boring jobs that are only available to the college educated. But, he went on, if you try hard now, you can set the pace to keep learning, because it would be devastating to realize at 45 or 50 that no one cared about what you had to say because all of it was just as boring as your  job.

That scared me. That really scared me.

But now, the further I get in my medical education, I’ve learned that I have exponentially increased both my ability to bore and to excite, and sometimes the line is difficult to toe. There are the obvious ends of the spectra.

“And then I realized it wasn’t diarrhea — It was a huge anal abscess I accidentally broke open — can you believe it? I almost thew up!”

That was interesting. That gets attention. Perfectly dinner-party appropriate.

But it’s dangerous too — I can bring up something I personally find interesting, misinterpret politeness as genuine interest, and realize ten pregnant minutes later that no one in the room gives two shits about prophylactic antibiotics for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis — that what really happened is that I’m in Minnesota and people are being nice and trying to make me feel normal.

And then I realize — I could become that boring doctor guy. It’s hard though — people define you by your profession. It’s the easiest facilitator of conversation. But it can also quickly lead to dangerously boring conversations. So even though I really want to talk about how excited I am to start composting, people always ask me about applying to residency, how I like medical school and what I’ve seen in the hospital.

But between yesterday and today I’ve composted probably eleven things I would have otherwise thrown away before I knew that I had a compost pile.


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