When I was 12 years old, and at boarding school in Bulawayo (now Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia), my parents came to collect me for one of the regular holiday breaks. One of the school officials took them aside, and suggested that I see a doctor. Apparently, I had been showing signs of occasional uncontrolled spasticity. My left arm would suddenly flail out, with no warning.
Once we reached the mission station, the missionary doctor was contacted. She came from a nearby mission and examined me. The diagnosis: rheumatic fever. And the symptom, commonly called St. Vitus Dance, was medically called Sydenham's chorea.
What causes rheumatic fever and Sydenham's chorea is a streptococcal A bacteria. The treatment then was complete bed rest and penicillin. Thus began my six weeks stay in bed. I have written about this event before and particularly focusing on the doctor who treated me.
I so admired this doctor. She was a very good doctor, and maybe more importantly to me at the time: she was a WOMAN. No doubt during the time I spent convalescing, I developed an idea--I could be a doctor.
So, that's where my career was headed. I recall a conversation with my father where I told him I wanted to be a doctor. I also recall his response--he affirmed that he and Mother would help me in whatever way they could.
What they couldn't help me with was Chemistry. Once in college, I took the requisite Chemistry course and promptly began to have doubts about my future career. I limped through the first semester of Chemistry, getting a C in the course. And then, with the second semester, I realized that my career goal of becoming a doctor was simply not going to happen. I got a D in the second semester, and immediately began to redirect my career goals.
I settled on being an English major, and not only earned my bachelor's degree in English but also a Master's degree. And then, by a fortuitous interaction with a favorite former professor, I ended returning to my alma mater to teach English.
But this change--from pre-medical to English--was not the only career change I experienced. After I had been teaching for 8 years, I needed to seek other employment. I had been full-time, then part-time when our son was born. When I wanted to return to full-time, the college dean informed me there were no positions for an indefinite time. So I went to work in a professional association representing doctors! Yes, I was finally working every day with doctors.
Along the way, I picked up much medical knowledge. From that professional association, I went to work for the State Health Department, and from there to one of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield organizations in the country.
Along the way, as I have interacted with people, I am sometimes asked--are you a doctor? The question makes me smile. But I answer--no--I just work with a lot of them. I don't even bother to say--but I wanted to be a doctor. Truth is, I am much happier having been an English major.
You see, after my sojourn in medical organizations was over, I returned to college level teaching--English.