On Easter…a reminder of faith and endurance on this long distance race to MD

Reposted: “Winning in Medicine”, written by Girelle Camarillo

I entered medical school as a fresh university graduate teeming with life and dream. I could say with my own standards that I was prepared well by the academe, by the church and by my self-pep talk for the next season I had to weather. The cry of my heart was to bloom where I was planted and the song of my spirit was, “Lord, here I am use me; send me for your glory.” I was fully aware of my purpose. But later on I would come to realize that to live it out was a different territory.

It didn’t take long since I had a step in to medicine, that I was thieved of enthusiasm and excellence… via Winning In Medicine

 

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“Why do you want to be a doctor?”

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The question I often think about in the context of an admissions interview. My stomach sinks to the floor, because the feeling it provokes is one of terror and scrutiny. Like being questioned under a hot lamp in a detective’s holding cell… “Who told you, you could aspire to be something so arduous, and grandiose? What are your motives and what really drives you to want to enter into this highly coveted and prestigious profession?” — in other words, “How dare you?”

I think about what a suitable answer would be, I fret over all the possible cliches and the truth is, my desire, curiosity, drive, is motivated by something intangible; it’s a feeling. Granted there are things about the profession that most would agree are advantageous, but won’t admit for fear of judgement and disdain. You have to love science, master the concepts and application in class and in the clinical setting. Becoming a doctor is a labor of love and great sacrifice, one has to be prepared to endure the challenges of the medical marathon. My desire to become a physician is routed in the personal experiences I’ve had in the context of my own health struggles, and of those closest to me.

I was introduced to the doctor’s office and hospital at a very young age. My mother always made sure we went routinely, in excess to some who “don’t go to the doctor like that.” Doctors were always feared and revered, and thankfully as I got older, I grew to revere and admire them for their dedication, intelligence, breadth of knowledge (and for a small few), patience and compassion. To make one feel at ease during trying times, and feel like more than just a number on a patient sign in sheet requires talent, and for some, its just a matter of being genuine. I have special relationships with some physicians that I wouldn’t trade for anything, no matter how far I move from their offices.

Likewise, the treatment and solace I’ve received from my doctors, is what I hope to give my patients in the future. In the hospital days after my first heart surgery, I received acts of kindness and patience that I will never forget (from certain physicians) that can’t be taught from a text book. Having difficulty swallowing after intubation, my cardiologist went to the cafeteria and purchased yogurt and iced tea, that I didn’t have in my room in an effort to make taking my enormous amount of  medication a little easier. She spent extra time (that she didn’t have) explaining what I didn’t understand. She gave me her personal cell phone and home phone number to use in those emergency situations when I needed her most. I don’t know a doctor who would be that accessible to a patient, but I am forever grateful — still six years later. She took on the role of my primary care doctor, therapist and cardiologist, because she recognized the fragile state I was in.  And in my vulnerable state, would do all she could to ease my pain and frustration about my health status. She went above and beyond her call of duty, something most will NEVER do.

My electrophysiologist held my hand when I cried about my fears of not being safe on the street in the event of a fatal arrhythmia. My obstetrician – gynecologist visited my bedside one early morning (when she was not on schedule to work at the hospital), to check on me after a myomectomy, that would’ve been a hysterectomy in the wrong doctor’s hands. However because of her support, she pointed me in the direction of the right “cowboy” who would take the risks, another surgeon wouldn’t, in an effort to preserve my fertility, regardless of what the numbers said. Because even though my heart was weak, the idea of having my uterus taken from me, because it was the “easiest solution” to my problem (menorrhagia caused by uterine fibroids), was terrifying and heart breaking. And reproductive justice was just as important in that moment.

My heart was touched by these professionals in ways I will never forget. I don’t know how I could ever thank them enough for the counsel and TIME they have given in advising and “healing” me. One day it dawned on me that I was chosen to go through these trials so that I could share my testimony with others in similar situations in need of reassurance and faith. I want to provide that “feeling” to other people who desperately need an ally, someone to listen, or explain, who won’t judge them, a doctor who will do all she can; above and beyond.

What’s in a number?

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The number 25 used to be one of my favorite numbers growing up, even up until this week. I always liked reciting my five times tables because it was easiest to remember than others…5×5 = 25!! It was better to have 25 cents — the big coin, than ten cents, the smallest coin. Math homework was easiest when you could divide a figure evenly by 25. Twenty five years of age is not too young, but old enough… I think you get my point.

However, 25 and I had a falling out a few days ago when I was at my follow up appointment with my heart failure doctor. “your current EF looks about 25%” Twenty five to me was less than 30-35, which is what it was a year ago. It was a decline in function in my book, but to the Dr, it was all the same. How could it be? When do we rely on the number to tell us something we can hang our hat on? Clearly 35 and 25 were not the same, and a difference of 5-10% in your paycheck, you might argue, is not the same figure either. When you’re counting on a number to tell you how long you have to live, or what the quality of life you may have in the near future will be like, there is no time to trivialize data.

I pushed back, tried to understand, and I was met with resistance, curtness and a lack of true empathy. It was moments like this, that made me want to pursue medicine, so I could be what this doctor wasn’t for me in that moment. Because unlike him, I will know what it is like to feel hopelessly bound to numbers that won’t increase beyond 35, when you so desperately want them to. How those numbers are tied to depression, medication, physical limitation, disappointment, anxiety, fear, change in career direction, regret, denial of the chance to carry a baby, decreased quality of life, and an early death sentence.

Visiting Medical Schools

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Visiting schools so far has been an okay experience. I am focusing on in-state schools, as they are the easiest to get to during my spring break. Finding the right environment for the next four years is pretty important, especially considering the price tag. So many things to consider: where we will live, where my husband will work, how the lectures are taught, the culture at the university, the professors, will there be faculty with clinical backgrounds that are of interest to me… will I GET IN?

For those people who have already gained entree into medical school, knowing what you know now about your school, what questions do you wish you would’ve asked before accepting your offer? What are good questions to ask in general, other things to consider? What’s more important, state of the art equipment or faculty that are relatable?

The Patient

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The day before my open heart surgery I said good – bye to my co-workers from the media agency located in the Meatpacking District (Manhattan, NY). I was going out on short term disability to have surgery on my mitral valve. At that time I was diagnosed with severe mitral valve regurgitation, which began to negatively impact my heart function. Along with symptoms of exercise intolerance, fatigue and shortness of breath which had become intolerable.

I met up with my friends and family for a steak dinner in celebration of love, support and blessings for my surgery the next day. We carried on like usual, lots of jokes, laughing, liquor, and love. February 2nd, 2012 was the date of my open heart surgery at NY Presbyterian Hospital – Cornell. My life would never be the same after, and I had no idea how difficult the test ahead would be.

I woke up from surgery in ICU to a room of familiar faces. I was strapped down to the bed, with an intubation tube still down my throat; I struggled to breathe. The overwhelming sensation to gag and vomit would not allow me to relax. Thrashing, pleading with desperate eyes, choking, feeble attempts to make audible sound from my lips, and blacked out moments of time unaccounted for…I was disoriented, but I knew I wanted the tube out ASAP.  A strange reaction I haven’t been able to shake. Waking up from general anesthesia after surgery continuously proved to be a traumatizing ordeal moving forward.

Later on I would learn of the reduced status of my heart function (ejection fraction of 17%), and details of what sounded like an unsuccessful surgery of unexpected twists and turns. The positive side was I was alive, but how I would live moving forward was not what I had in mind. I stayed 21 days in the hospital, looking for clarity, reassurance, comfort, understanding and hope, most of which I did not receive. At discharge I got a laundry list of heart failure/hypertension medication, a pacemaker implant, and a whole lot of anxiety and uncertainty about my future.

Day 1

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It has taken me quite some time to start a blog, and the reason I didn’t was because of F.E.A.R. I was told constantly by friends and acquaintances to start one and how great it would be, but I could never get out of my own way. Fearful that my blog wouldn’t be unique, intellectual enough, boring, and “all things negative”. Where did I get these thoughts from you ask? I’d have to lay on a couch in some office to tease those thoughts up to the surface. But in all honesty, F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real was keeping me from being great. The first time I heard the acronym was at my cousin’s college graduation from Kean University in Union, NJ. The keynote speaker was Hill Harper, and I was captivated (for more reasons than one) by his address to the graduating class of 2010. The take home message was to manifest your own destiny, by going after what your heart desires. And only after doing so, will you know if it’s for you or not. I too was guilty of giving F.E.A.R. permission to paralyze my ambition and self-perception back then, but it all stops today! I’m pushing F.E.A.R. aside and re-writing my narrative. Day 1, I will take a step forward into uncharted territory and allow myself to be uncomfortable and vulnerable. In doing so, I know there will be an opportunity for growth!

The Patient-Doctor

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I am currently taking science pre-requisites as a pre-med post – bac student in North Carolina, in preparation for the MCAT and to apply to medical school. It’s definitely hard returning to school after being away for so long. I majored in English Literature & Rhetoric at Binghamton University (Upstate NY) my first go around. Although I find medicine fascinating, learning and excelling in courses like Physics and OChem do not come naturally. I’m still re-learning the best ways to study, manage my time, and continuously working on my critical thinking skills. I’m easily distracted, I procrastinate, can find it hard to organize my tasks and time and worst of all I suffer from Impostor Syndrome.  Oh, I forgot the elephant(s) in the room — I have congestive heart failure (CHF), depression, anxiety, and ADHD (recently diagnosed), making things “a little bit” more challenging.

When I graduated high school, I had dreams of becoming a doctor. When I got to college, those dreams quickly dissipated. The challenge for some reason seemed insurmountable. The science text books were huge, expensive, and the time and discipline required to study (and do well) seemed immeasurable. I watched certain students go off to the science library every evening with books in hand and on their backs.  In sweats with messy hair buns fastened on top of their heads, looking to pull another all night study session. I talked myself out of the presumed torture and decided to major in what came natural to me, English. I didn’t want to lose my hair and be stressed out about school, I wanted to enjoy my college experience (party and sleep).

Well it took an unfulfilling 9 year career in media planning, a traumatic health event, and enduring the last 6 months of my grandmother’s life (by her bedside) in and out of the hospital and nursing home, to embark on the journey to the dream I deferred years ago; applying to medical school.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton