Why the Show Must Go On

Last night, I attended a concert put on by Robert Plant and The Band of Joy. It was an excellent performance. Of course, to see a legend perform is always amazing. There is something about witnessing someone in his element that is so inspiring. The energy in the theater, particularly towards the end of the performance, was infectious. The crowd, which appeared to span the age range of adolescence into the 60s, was mesmerized and star struck. (And a few were perhaps a little under the influence of something else that my olfactory sense detected).

I have written before about music and medicine and its value for a physician. It is very personal, as well. Music is inextricable with my life. Having started playing the piano at age 5 or 6, then the clarinet in grade school (and then other endeavors best left to be discussed in person), I have learned much about life through musicianship. Three years ago, I took up the guitar and have been hooked since. I was fortunate to find an excellent teacher who possesses equal patience for a busy physician who tries her best to practice and for 4-year-olds with significantly limited attention spans.

Each year, my teacher arranges a “recital.” This is not your average recital. In fact, it is called “The Jam.” You can play solo or have a band backing you up. You can even sing, if you care to share your voice. During the first year of my lessons, I declined to perform. At that time, I hadn’t performed in a few years and felt uncomfortable now that had become a physician. Why would people want to see a doctor strumming a six-string? Would I be held to a higher standard? When I started taking lessons, I was conflicted enough about what it meant to be a doctor and to continue to pursue music that my teacher didn’t know what I did for a living for at least a year. At times, I questioned why I was even taking the lessons. Somewhat of a Type A perfectionist, I would often get frustrated by slower progress than I was expecting, and I have contemplated cancelling my performance in these recitals at the last minute, including a performance coming up next week (!).

Before a public performance (which I simultaneously look forward to and dread) my heart races a bit and my palms get a little sweaty. I know what I should play because I rehearsed it over and over and I can hear it in my head, but it all comes down to this one very short moment in time. I get a little anxious. I don’t know how I will be received. I might even mess up. The faces of the audience may express boredom or perplexity or excitement. Ideally, at the end, I would feel support from the audience. Otherwise, my fears of dismissal or even disapproval will come true.

Does this sound familiar?

So, last night, as I was watching the performance of legendary artist and growing nervous about mine, I was reminded why this hobby has value for me as a physician. What I described above could just as easily have been a patient experience in an office visit. Sure, it’s not a crowd. It’s definitely not a hobby for a patient. But the pathophysiology and emotions involved in facing a doctor during a relatively brief office is similar.

Most people seem to prefer to “perform” in life within a realm of comfort or mastery. But there is something to be said for trying something with which you are not familiar. When we tread uncharted waters, we remind ourselves of our vulnerability. There is nothing like a bit of nervousness or fear to remind you of your humanness.

This is why, despite my nerves, the show must go on.

Wish me luck.

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