In her book, “In Shock”, Dr. Rana Awdish, an Intensivist, describes how, after a near- death experience and prolonged, difficult recovery, she came to appreciate the importance that people have had in her life. She spoke of those who trained her and of her colleagues, each playing a role in molding her, like clay in a potter’s hands, into who she was. She said, “I learned from them that relationships can shape us….That we can allow ourselves to be supported by an enveloping mold in the hands of others.”
All of us have had people be our “potter’s hands”. After my father, the biggest influence was my Little League baseball coach, “Skip”. He had been a professional baseball player but a severe wound from the Korean War ended his career. He turned his passion for baseball on us. His love for the game was contagious. He taught us how to look and to play like a Major Leaguer! I loved it. I loved him. I remember at the age of 12 thinking that one day I would coach Little League. I wanted to bring the same fun and joy to kids and I tried. I coached youth baseball nearly 20 years, even before I had children.
There were others as well:
My 11th grade Chemistry teacher, the best teacher in the school. If you could make a “B” in his class, he would write a letter of recommendation to college for you. He taught me how to study!
My high school ROTC Instructor. He told me in the 10th grade that, if I got into West Point, which he made clear he doubted, he did not think I would survive the rigorous 4 years there. He was the only person ever to tell me I could not succeed at something. His words were like a blacksmith stoking a fire, fueling it, making it grow hotter, more powerful. I determined to prove him wrong.
My Tactical Officer at West Point. A highly decorated combat veteran in Vietnam who became a Four- star General. He was the toughest of all the officers assigned to develop, teach, and discipline cadets. There was an intense love-hate relationship between my company mates and him. He made our lives miserable but secretly we took pride in being in the hardest of the 36 companies there. He taught me physical and mental toughness, perseverance, accountability, responsibility, and attention to detail.
My Hospital Commanding Officer in Saudi Arabia during the First Gulf War. His reputation as the toughest Chief of Surgery in the Army Medical Corps preceded him. I know because I trained where he was the Chief and heard all the “stories” from my surgical contemporaries. However, when war came, and I was his Chief of Medicine, he was one of the best leaders for whom I ever served. He knew how to take care of his people.
Who helped mold you? Who invested in, taught, encouraged, and mentored you? Are you doing the same for those coming behind you? You have a special gift to give - your wisdom and knowledge from years of training, and experience. In doing so, you become “the hands of a potter”, shaping and molding them into the best they can be. In doing so, you will make a difference in their lives just as others made a difference in yours. In doing so, you can find joy.
Andy Lamb, MD