Doc Takes a Stand Sitting Down

March 15, 2010

It is tempting sometimes to play victim. My constant combat with MS leads me to the edge of that cliff every so often, but I know if I go over, I will be splattered on the rocks below. Self-esteem, if not personal pride, does not allow me to go there. Life goes on and despite rather pronounced bumps in the road, is good.

Why me? That question you might expect Ryan Martin to ask repeatedly. He does not. What a dangerous question that is. Ryan was shot in the back as a teenager, a bullet he did not deserve. Why not me? It all happens by chance. Somebody has to pay the piper. There are others with equal, if not worse problems than mine, and I do not hear any whining out of them.

Sometimes looking around and taking in another person’s life can feed a valuable coping mechanism. Things always can be worse.

Dr. Ryan Martin took a bullet he had not earned in his back when he was only a teenager. He has been sitting in a wheelchair ever since. That alone is unimaginable. Ryan had the perfect “Why Me?” license. He became a victim candidate. He did not accept.

We all hear people say, oh, I could not cope with that; I could not handle it. We sell ourselves short because we are stronger than we think. You do not know what you can handle until you are tested. Fortunately for many, that day never comes. For the sick and disabled, the test is real. I think most of us pass.

Yes, Ryan’s mother pushed him to work hard and succeed, but Ryan was so young. The pull to play the role of a broken person must have been powerful. Ryan is not the first person whose story I have chronicled who has kept moving forward and found his way across a wide river.

What is so striking about Ryan is how completely he has integrated his disability into his life. He feels normal. Ryan barely thinks his life in a wheelchair separates him from able bodied colleagues. The man is patient with those who insist he must be different. Ryan is at peace with himself, which puts him ahead of others who assume he feels diminished. The man does not.

What is it that rests deep inside a human being, what reservoir of inner strength exists? Some force enables that person by force of will to pull himself or herself out of the deepest holes to pursue a normal and productive life. This man became the first to graduate from Yale medical school in a wheelchair. Ryan stayed at Yale to become a fertility specialist and just was offered a private practice position at the university.

What kind of physician will this man become? Will he be different from all the others? Maybe the tragedy in his own life will make him a kinder doc who relates to his patients with ease. There is an empathy gap in medicine today. Will Ryan Martin fill that void? He just might. Young doctors desperately need role models. They can play that part for each other. The older generation of physicians generally is a disappointment on that score.

Dr. Ryan Martin. I wonder what he thought when he was fifteen, what he could see in the distance. He dreamed and worked to make it happen. Ryan became a doctor to help others. “Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage,” writer Anais Nin suggested. Dr. Ryan Martin lives that every day.

It is natural to feel cheated by an act of violence that leaves a person in a wheelchair. The calm response seems unnatural. How does a person in Ryan’s position, practicing medicine from a wheelchair, never able to stand over a patient, keep him from being consumed by anger? Instead Ryan was philosophical and calmly found his way into medical school.

Comments are closed.