Dear MS1s,

Welcome to medical school — Congratulations!  You have worked, sacrificed, waited for this moment for many long years, have left blood, sweat, tears along the tracks of your life marathon. This is the first checkpoint in your journey. You’ve made it. Your loved ones are right here cheering your accomplishments, there are many. That new, freshly pressed, bright white coat makes you look like an absolute stud. It feels incredible. You are incredible. You have chosen a path of remarkable science and humbling servitude. Breathe the sigh of relief that you now have two feet in the front door.

Welcome to the rest of your life.

You have no idea what you got yourself into.

For many of you behind the bubbling excitement lies fear. For some of you somehow you have already convinced yourself that perhaps you are not ready for this, aren’t meant for this, this must be one huge mistake you’ve managed to stumble your way through. Imposter syndrome has found its ways through the cracks of your door and lingers in the dark corners of your desk. You have already stared down the mountain that is medical information, because there is no grace period, and have wondered how you will ever be able to master all this information. I am here to be honest with you. There will be many hours spent studying, sleepless nights, unending phone calls to mom, a couple of breakdowns, half your tuition spent on coffee with x amount of espresso shots. There will be frustration, perhaps depression, struggle, failure. There will be many moments of questioning, of feelings of unbearable expectations and standards. You will see those around you who have chosen not to pursue a medical degree moving on with their lives and you will feel stagnant. You will feel alone.

I am here to validate you: it is okay to feel all these things. It is okay to sometimes not be okay. Realize though, you are never alone. You have an incredible community behind you who have suffered the same, who are ready with an extended hand to provide you the support you need. Medicine is a team sport, and we continue to progress by standing on the shoulders of the giants before us. Please never hesitate to reach out.

You will  be learning some of the most profound knowledge the human race has been able to discover, contribute to an ever-evolving field dedicated to helping humanity. In cadaver lab you will lift lungs that once gave air, hold a heart that beat more times than seconds you’ve walked this earth, admire gyrus of the brain, become aware of your own neurons firing, and wonder to yourself the memories held within the folds of the person who donated their body for your learning. You will be given instruments that can hear a broken heart, can peak through the windows to the soul, can gaze upon vibrating drums, can test the spine that runs along our backs, the tracts that run to our brains. You will take histories and be granted information only few know and will form bonds that speaks of lifetimes, starting with a handshake, sometimes ending with hugs. You will offer tissues when tears come-and they will come-and feel awkward with silence and not know what to say, but you will learn that your presence is enough. Your humanity is enough. You will acquire more information than you ever have in the shortest amount of time you have ever been given. When you realize it, you will marvel at the capacity of your phenomenal mind.

These next four years will undoubtably be, simultaneously, the most difficult and the most rewarding years of your life thus far. When the difficult comes, remember you are here because you are worthy, because someone has entrusted that one day you will be capable of taking care of the world that walks through your front door. You will internalize the hippocratic oath we all take-do no harm. You will be caring, kind, empathetic to those who are going through the worst days of their lives, and you will do so by carrying burdens on your shoulder only few in the world are permitted to carry. You will do so with knowledge, with grace, with humility.

It won’t ever get easier than this moment, but trust me when I say you get stronger. Everyday you carry a little more than you ever imagine you could and realize you are capable. You pick up on things. You learn what works for you, what doesn’t. Failures keep coming (they don’t ever stop) but you keep standing. You keep moving. It doesn’t get easier, but your resilience will shock you.

At the end of all this, you will cross that stage. You will get your degree. You will join the ranks of medical greatness. You will continue your journey onto a new chapter.

Until then, remember to take deep breaths. Live a moment at a time. The days are long and the years are short. Don’t forget to enjoy them. Don’t forget to appreciate every single day you are living this honor and privilege. I’ll be right here, witnessing the amazing journey you’re about to embark on.

With Open Arms,
Your Colleague

 

TEDxUH: As I Lay Dying

Zainab, a current medical student, shares her experiences with her patients and what her interaction with death on a daily basis has taught her about life. Integrating poetry in her talk, Zainab eloquently details her effort to add humanity in the battle with mortality. Zainab Mabizari is a first generation Algerian American born and raised in Houston. She currently attends Baylor College of Medicine and aspires to use her medical degree to advocate for public health policy and global health in underprivileged communities. She is a writer, and a poet, and believes in the power of storytelling. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx

On Hearts

heartWhen I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I told them a heart surgeon. They would laugh that sweet laugh adults laugh when cute, naive children speak of that which they know not of. As I grew older I started vocalizing that dream less, partly because I was tired of being reminded that I am a woman, partly because I became self-conscious that perhaps I wasn’t capable. Though I shoved it deeper and deeper into my subconscious, that idea never entirely dissipated.

I was in the OR the other day preparing for a coronary artery bypass when I struck a conversation with a man who asked me if I wanted to be a surgeon. I let him know that I haven’t entirely ruled it out yet. I’ve found that I enjoy working with my hands, that there’s something miraculous about using these fingertips to perform procedures that were once taboo, once unknown, but now saves lives. He reminded me, quite kindly, that I had to evaluate my goals in life. To be a surgeon takes many years of training, many hours, more than not of them spent in the hospital, is high stress, and not very family friendly. This I was very familiar with. This I noticed, when on the first day of the service I found myself to be the only woman, when I walked past the wall of memorialized medical giants and found all of them to be older white men. I could have been defiant, sassy, fiery with a response but I recognized the truth in his words and the kindness in which he spoke. And I want everything-the independence, the career, the family, the happiness, at levels perhaps others would call me insane. And I can. I told him it’s like a puzzle. Your pieces need to fit. I have to find all the pieces that fit.

At the stroke of midnight I witnessed a heart transplant. Someone died. Someone was dying. A group of world-trained surgeons gave a person a second chance at life. A medical student who was once a naive, little girl dreaming of fixing broken hearts had the privilege of witnessing a medical miracle.

This could not be a coincidence.

She is still deciding who she wants to be. She is still trying to figure out how the pieces of her puzzles will fit. Everyday continues to be a lesson in balance, progress, grabbing opportunities. Sometimes she wishes she could just know the future so that decisions wouldn’t be as hard, but it’s okay. She knows she’s getting closer, twenty-four hours at a time.

To the little girl I once was, look at where we are now. You are a woman. You are capable. This isn’t a dream anymore.

2017 is for Growing

In my planner, under goal for the month, I simply wrote Growth. I wanted to take January slow, to properly ponder what I truly wanted for 2017-⠀

~

My aunt stopped me in the kitchen one day. She sat me down and told me, I know you’re going to be a doctor, but remember before anything you are a Woman first. Take care of your body. I was starving myself, feeding only the mental, emotional, spiritual parts of me. I wasn’t balanced. Find balance.

~

Once, in a class analyzing a literary work, the professor asked if the author was too self-aware. Do you think it turns the reader off? No-embrace your awareness. There’s honesty, and difficulty, in seeing yourself for who you are, in striving to fix the parts you don’t like. As long as it doesn’t cripple you, as long as there’s gratitude in the journey. We are works constantly in process. Remember there’s beauty in appreciating every step of the way. ⠀

~

I’ve realized that the hardest part of letting go is having to construct a future different from what you envisioned. It’s trying to have full faith and trust in the fact that there is no one single path. We move, we stop, we adjust, we move, we stop, we adjust, and somehow in the end we’ve zigzagged around but in that zigging and zagging we’ve picked up people and stories and lessons and memories and the full confidence that everything happens for a reason. I’ve accepted what happened. I’m embracing the unknown.⠀

~

Be light, my dear. Be light, with your thoughts, with your actions, with your self-criticisms, with your anger, with the heaviest of burdens that sits in your throat, on your chest. Be light. Be light. Be light. Breathe deeply, think clearly. Be light.

Intersections II

These are just points. Points that become lines, and lines that become crosses, and crosses that keep intersecting, like those Etch A Sketches we used to play with as kids.

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2iPM009 by Magdalena Fernandez

What this photo deprives you of is the sound in the background-rain. Starting off with a couple of drops, pianissimo, then crescendo to thunder with bright, blinding flashes of lightening, but only for a brief second before going into a steep decrescendo, morendo. The points and lines and crosses become less and less until you’re engulfed in darkness. As soon as the silence settles in, your eyes adjusted to black, your ears pick up the sound of distinct rain drops beginning once again. Dal niente.

And you can sit, in the exhibit, on a bench, just listening and synchronizing. After a couple of cycles, if you’re paying attention, you’ll realize that the sound you’re hearing isn’t rain. It’s a chorus, clapping and snapping and whistling, in imitation of one of the most calming, one of the most frightening moments of nature.

I’ve been reflecting a lot, about the crazy world we’ve learned in history books but never imagined experiencing. About how, this moment, right now, will be in the same history books. Future generations, of a future, hopefully more united world, will analyze this. They’ll ask what happened. Sit in an exhibit, on a bench, question.

Alone, we are just points in space. When we mobilize we start forming these lines. When we organize, when we connect, when we make an effort to intersect, we cross into each other’s paths. When we take all of our collective actions, all our efforts to attempt change, we’ll form a thunderous applause.

That’s history. Injustice crescendos until we can’t take it anymore and we fight back. And right now it’s overwhelming, and there’s tension and discord, and your heart drops at every breaking news report, but we’re experiencing a moment that will define the future. We’re reaching the thunder, with the bright, blinding flashes of lightening, and we’re the chorus in one of the most frightening moments of our history.

Keep clapping, snapping, whistling, doing what you can. Take those points, turn them into lines, and become crosses that keep intersecting.

Let There Be Light

I took a mental day off. Or at least tried to. I laid in my bed watching lights dance across my wall for the better half of my early morning-

Last night, once again, I found myself amongst classmates discussing death. How do we define it, how do we define personhood, what is a soul, does a soul even exist, what is man, is man man if there is no neocortical function, is neocortical function the essence of man, who are we to come up with guidelines based on samples and statistics, are we using science to ignore philosophy?

And that’s how I fell asleep, with heavy thoughts that neither I, nor anyone else, could satisfactory answer. In all our scientific brilliance we accepted humility in the face of the unfathomable.

That’s the problem with rationale. There comes a point where you no longer have the answers and you have to accept. If not, you go in circles and you lose something so critically important-empathy. In all of our equations, we will never have a definite variable for H. Human. And for me, G. God.

You change, when you’re twenty-three and you’re discussing death, when you’re having conversations questioning if the methods you’re learning will be debunked years from now, when you’re constantly refining your morals and values, when you have to make your heart big enough to hold everything your mind can’t answer, when you think of the day you have to stand before a family and say that their loved one is brain dead. Even if through a machine their heart is beating, even if they are still breathing, even if there might be a twitch here or there that gives some hope of life but science tells you it’s improbable, it’s meaningless. And you have to suggest to them that it’s time to let go. And you have to be confident in that suggestion. You have to be confident in how you defined death and meaning.

You change, when you’re twenty-three and you get up in the morning knowing you need a mental day off because that’s the first thing in your mind. But simple things, like watching light dance across the wall makes you feel warm and acutely self-aware of mortality and how alive and blessed you are.