No Longer Playing Doctor

Everything you need to know is found within this photograph. Its color has dimmed by now. The picture’s browns and

Everything you need to know is found within this photograph.

Its color has dimmed by now. The picture’s browns and whites are noticeably faded, pressed by age and the covers of the album. But at the center, unmistakably, is me.

The date is Halloween, 1992. I’m seven years old and the flash has caught my hand, freezing it as it plays with the stethoscope dangling around my neck. The clothes I’m wearing—blue medical scrubs from Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital—are equal parts costume and equal parts adult work attire. My father’s shirt, tucked-in and wrinkled, hangs down to my knees. Pinned to it is a customized NYU ID card, complete with a photo of me that my mother has pasted over my dad’s picture.

I wore this particular outfit for maybe six or seven Halloweens, beginning at age six. It was an impressive streak that went happily uninterrupted save a brief, ill-advised turn as a pale pink Care Bear.

But when my relatives glance at this undoubtedly adorable photo today, they don’t smile and laugh. Instead, their lips purse, puzzlement sets in, and they begin to wonder: what happened to you?

As it happens, I’ve been wondering a bit too.

I’m 20 years old, a junior in college. I’m only a year or so removed from that time when my peers will enter medical school and fulfill the prophecies of childhood Halloween costumes. But unless med schools have started valuing experience with Mario Baseball instead of biology, I think my current application might be a bit lacking.

At Harvard, I’ve taken classes in English and Spanish, government and anthropology, linguistics and VES—but none in biology, chemistry, or physics. My mother and father—a dermatologist and urologist, respectively—are most confused. Despite their loving guidance, the last science class to appear on my transcript was Science B-57, “Dinosaurs and Their Relatives.” When they asked me what I learned sitting there in Science Center C, what sprung to mind was not skeletal systems or plate tectonics, but how my roommate created an aggressively lewd anagram to remember therapods.

But once upon a time, science was my passion. In grade school, I was fascinated by lab experiments, class field trips to the Museum of Natural History, and, most of all, my parents’ jobs. Ironically, I also happened to memorize a lot of facts about dinosaurs.

My Halloween costume was not only easy to make and reproduce year after year. Having been raised on the sound of people greeting my parents as “Dr. Torre and Dr. Torre,” I never doubted that I would eventually grow into my scrubs.

But things didn’t happen as planned. I liked freshman biology a decent amount, but I found chem flat-out boring. Physics was painfully entertaining junior year, but I enjoyed history and English much, much more.

So in my senior year, encouraged by success on the debate team, I opted for courses on postmodernism and contemporary political issues over Advanced Bio. I enjoyed writing and discussing ideas far more than learning bodily cycles, the coefficient of friction, and chemical equations that involved something called the “mol.” Also, I hated math.

Along the way, I never explicitly told my parents that I was changing my plans to go into medicine. I was just caught up in the people and the activities I enjoyed. Out of all the classmates I spent time with, perhaps only one or two were “science people,” which also means they probably won’t be homeless in two years. The rest of us found our academic happiness—not to mention success—in debating social and moral issues, or in attempting amateur literary and historical analysis.

In my first few weeks at Harvard, I did attend an information session about preparing oneself for med school. My parents had suggested it. To me, it was almost for old times’ sake. After returning to my Holworthy suite, I placed the pamphlet in my top desk drawer, promising myself that I would look at it later.

I may have then left to read, write an article at The Crimson, or play Wiffleball with my roommates. I’m not sure, but I never did return to it. I will admit, however, that sometimes nostalgia still jerks me around. I cannot help but have a healthy respect for pre-meds, and—old photographs in mind—I occasionally wonder if I really have been ignoring my grade school enthusiasm for science. My parents still reminisce about it over the dinner table.

What if the baggy scrubs were truly meant to foreshadow my future, and I still have science buried deep within me today?

These days, I doubt it. But just in case, at least the old Halloween costume probably fits.

Pablo S. Torre ‘07, a sociology concentrator in Quincy House, is an associate sports chair of The Crimson. He really wants to dress up as a Care Bear this year, and not necessarily for Halloween.