Grapes and Wine

You start with seeds and their finite potential. You are going to make something great with this field and these seeds. You plant them, water them, love and dote on them. They are nurtured and they sweeten in the sun. And then, when they cannot grow this way any more, you pluck the best.

You take these grapes, throw them into a barrel, and ignore them. You don’t give them sun, activity, or anything familiar. It’s quite a shock to the grapes. You do this for years. And years.

Out pops wine.

Pretty inefficient, but I don’t know how I would fix it. I don’t know that trying to speed it up won’t make for something unpalatable. I guess I just have to deal with the ignoring and waiting until those grapes magically turn themselves into something more.

Pretty much what the third year of medical school has felt like. I haven’t written about it.

Before, my shtick was looking around and sort of cataloging all the interesting things that were happening around me. Not a lot of introspection going on. Nothing to write about inside the barrel that is my hospital. Or there is, but that’s not the story.

The story is the fermenting. My classmates and I are taking on new flavors and textures. A few might be prematurely alcoholic. Others have lost their sweetness. Most rougher for the wear and rarely anyone smoother.

And it is incredible.

I put up a hell of a fight. A nine month spectacle of twisting, thrashing and spitting. On March 5th, 2008, I broke. Emotionally. Mentally. Broke. It was awful. I haven’t written about it because I’m unsure on these new, wobbly legs.

But for the first time I know what language is supposed to do. I know how people reward their physicians. I understand patience. I have experienced the risks and rewards of vulnerability. What is and is not important has been impossibly rearranged in my head. When I look at the decisions I am making now, I don’t recognize them as coming from my past. All of it seems to come from very different stuff.

But then you never could have told me, after I rolled one around in my mouth, that grapes could give way to wine.


11 Responses to Grapes and Wine

  1. games says:

    this sounds like the garbage i was writing when i still had the will and some talent.
    i’m proud of you.
    your brother,

  2. Jesse says:

    I’m right there with you, being 2 weeks away from the end of my 3rd year as well. I too neglected writing on my site over the last year, simply because there was no way that I could capture the experience in words, and even if I could I was too damned tired to do so anyways. Thanks for putting it so eloquently, and here’s to a renewed effort to document the ups and downs of 4th year (and residency!) from both of us.

  3. Dragonfly says:

    Hope things are going better now.

  4. May says:

    Excellent post! It is nice to know that others feel this way. I am still left wondering though, if you leave those grapes alone unseen/untested in the barrel for so long-what if they are going bad, do they always come out wine? I am constantly terrified I am not learning enough.

  5. The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can.
    Robert Cushing

    You sound like you have made it through to the end of third year in spite of what was happening. There is nothing you cannot accomplish.

    I am a wine maker by hobby– May, sometimes they turn to vinegar. I make wine by fermenting grapes, but also with dandelions (great desert wine!) and onions, tomatoes, and berries of all sorts. Sure, it’s disappointing when when batch turns to vinegar because it’s a waste of fruit– and it really pisses me off when I realize that I soured a batch of dandelion wine because a strand of leaves got into the must in the early days. I go through my fruit very carefully, much like schools do in accepting students. The metaphor in this article is beyond perfect.

  6. pKay says:


    Reading through a large chunk of your blog (browsing through the archives ;) ) I got to say that writing is deff for you! After saving lives of course. ‘Old man’ and ‘Anne’ are both 11/10 material. Grats on that!

    Shame that I stumbled on this so late and you have actually said you won’t be active on this too much.

    Ah well, no matter! All the best with the rest of med school (starting 4th year soon I think?) and enjoy life as per usual!


  7. […] all incoming medical students to spend some time reading what he has lived through, case in point: Grapes and Wine (Jun 12 2008 ). His blog is also were I found the link to a video written for and by medical […]

  8. Topher,

    I concur with EBM – your writing is simply brilliant!

  9. Sanjoy says:

    man! u can write!

  10. UT says:


    Somewhere along the way a muse latched onto you, and refuses to let go. You continue to amaze. As apt as the wine barrel image is, may I suggest another – carbon, under pressure and over time, produces diamond.

  11. anna says:

    Nice to see some more posts – I had given up on you. I am 4th year too now but I think we are junior to the US 4 year equivalent. Please carry on writing – your posts are great


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