Christmas break started off on an uninspired note, after an amazing, yet much less than perfect (academically-speaking) first half of the first year. When the reality of personally unsatisfactory performances popped up as test results on my computer screen, I knew that this Christmas break would need to be more than just a holly jolly jingle fest.
Besides renewing my energy for the next half of the school year, I wanted the break to remind of the joy and excitement that I had when I arrived at Loma Linda. By no means did the rigors of the first half of the year turn me into that highly publicized soul-less student. I simply know that we all have a delicate relationship with medicine. It needs constant analytical attention and effort so that those nights muttering “I’m fine” don’t turn into looking up art instructor jobs in Paris under the dimmed light of a computer screen at three in the morning. It takes an intricate balance of some personal time apart and some quality time together. Little did I know that following this simple tactic this break would revamp this love story. On a side apologetic note, the sappy metaphorical tone is a direct result of three too many romantic films while on break.
The background story includes my friend whom I call Baby Liz. In nursing school I was lucky to find her friendship. Last summer, for example, included trying out the local public pool, where the colloquial term “stank face” took on a whole new meaning while bravely worn as the trade-off for the bargain of the admission price. Whenever I am home I visit her, we adventure all over Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. On this Christmas break, we set out on a neighborhood Christmas party that included three houses and three courses. The first house had some delicious tomato bisque as an appetizer, Liz’s house attempted a chicken and vegetable alfredo (I’ll partly take the blame for the chewy chicken), and the last house had some yummy dessert treats and good conversation. As I walked in to that last house I remember thinking, are those surgical room scrubs I see? Any time is a good time to poke away at surgeon’s brains. Intended puns aside, the conclusion of the conversation was that I would be shadowing for a couple of days with the neurosurgery team.
I fell in love all over again, and I thought I didn’t need to. The resident was so welcoming, the other residents so friendly, and the attending surgeons so considerate. I was encouraged to watch a craniotomy for an arteriovenous malformation (where there is a section of no capillaries to offset the pressure between arteries and veins), performed by a female neurosurgeon, both the procedure and gender being a rarity. I sat in that atmosphere of pure focus and meticulous technique for more than four hours, yet it flew by as if half that long. The second day consisted of following the resident throughout the hospital, answering to emergent calls and consults.
It was the camaraderie I saw in the team. This consisted of their inside jokes and positive attitudes, even after days of scant sleep, and their enthusiasm to do whatever it took to care for a patient and perfect a skill. It was also the approachability of attending surgeons with an almost unparalleled responsibility to human life that was so humbling to me. Taking me around the hospital for the consults, Brian, the resident made me feel as if I was part of the team, as if my six months of books and tests made me an invaluable player, and as if my questions presented interesting points. I was even included in the patients’ chart as part of the team consulted (oh, the things that get us newbies excited!). At the end of the two days, I could not express my gratitude. My attempt at expressing just how much I had enjoyed the experience, and how I had hoped not to have been an inconvenience was met with the response, “I only made it here because of someone else’s time and attention, so it is the least I can do.”
Between the fascinating procedures and intricate clinical involvement, those two days were almost enough to have me sign up and start dreaming of neurosurgery. As I asked the female neurosurgeon about her hours and lifestyle, I saw the dedication, passion, and sacrifice that such a life takes. Trying to get a better picture of life as a neurosurgeon, in other conversations with the residents I would ask, “why do you give up so much of yourself, and how do you find the perseverance?” The varying answers included the honor in sacrifice, the reward in healing, and the humility in scientific limitations.
Standing at the brink of the second half of the year, or more honestly, sitting in the cheaper middle seat on a non-stop flight to an even cheaper yet inconveniently far LAX, my passion is more than renewed: it is stronger and has taken on a new maturity. It has a new appreciation for the opportunities I have been given, and it has a new regard for sacrifice and dedication. Camaraderie brought me opportunity, hard work will follow me through, and the love of medicine will drive me on. While I wish I could say I had definitely decided my future career, all I can actually exclaim is that I am almost at sunny California, ready to dig into the books again.