I just found out my old friend Scott has died. When I got my medical school newsletter, I was shocked to find his name among the list of alumni who had passed away. It just doesn't seem right that somebody so young and vivacious could have disappeared at the prime of his life.
Scott and I started medical school together. He was tall, lanky, with a thick crop of curly brown hair and a deep husky voice. He was also a cancer survivor and one of the most interesting persons I had ever met.
We met each other through a mutual friend when we all decided to be roommates together. I didn't know him very well at the time. But Scott was easy to like. He had a ready smile and a very dry sense of humor. I've seen him annoyed but never saw him lose his temper. Whereas other medical students can be extremely competitive and cutthroat, he was much more laid back. He didn't get the best grades but he wasn't the worst student either. He just didn't take his studies as seriously as the rest of us. He wasn't the type to pull all nighters or dissolve into a morass of self doubt if he didn't ace an exam. He was even keeled when the rest of us were tossed around by our own storms of emotional distress. He knew there were more important things in life than getting straight A's and brown nosing the right professor for a research spot.
My friend also didn't hang out with the other med students much. Medical students can be quite insular and clannish. Instead Scott preferred the company of the music school students at the university. Because they were constantly coming over to our house, I got to know many of them. And they are VERY different from med students. The first giveaway was the alternative dress and piercings. And the tattoos. I don't think any medical student would be allowed in the hospital if they showed up looking so rebellious. But they were all very friendly and seemed to have a lot more fun than us. I could see why he liked to be around them more than with his own classmates.
Besides being more inclusive, there was another reason Scott enjoyed his time with the music students. They were heavily into marijuana. Nowadays, he could probably get some back alley "doctor" to write him a prescription for medical marijuana since he actually had a legitimate reason to take it. But back then, he was simply just another pothead who enjoyed a toke now and then.
He was the first person I knew who used marijuana routinely. He even offered me a puff one time, not in a pushy sort of way but because he knew I was curious. Unfortunately my strict upbringing caused me to pull back from the temptation. In retrospect it was probably a pretty lame choice. Even presidents of the United States now admit to partaking weed in their youths without any apparent consequences to their health or occupation. But I declined and he never asked again.
I was always afraid that when my parents visited they would see or smell the pot in the house. But Scott was very discreet. I never saw him stoned, staring into a lava lamp and uttering nonsense. He rarely smoked his marijuana or cigarettes indoors. He even kept his plants in his room well out of sight. No one would ever suspect he had a weed garden growing there. My parents were never the wiser.
Halfway through medical school, Scott's cancer came back. He had to drop out of school for over a year to start his treatments. Our little household broke up and we each moved on to different roommates and locations. I kind of lost track of Scott after that. But he did come back and complete his medical degree. He went on to train at a prestigious subspecialty in the upper Midwest and had a thriving practice afterwards. He got married and had several children before his cancer recurred one last time.
Thank you Scott for showing me how beautiful life is outside the confines of our parochial scientific institutions. You faced down your illness with a sunny disposition and never wallowed in self pity. I will always treasure how you opened my eyes to all the possibilities that exist if one is willing to step out of family and social expectations and lead a life of one's own choosing. You were truly an inspiration for my young, developing self. Farewell my friend, until we meet again.