The Metal Tables

Danny, First Year Medical StudentAt the end of the year, we hold a memorial ceremony, giving thanks to the friends of families of those who donated their bodies to the Anatomy Department at Loma Linda. Throughout the serene program, many students delivered moving testimonies of their experiences in the cadaver lab. The following is one example.


 

They were laid out on metal tables, sheathed in Glistening white vinyl
Bright under fluorescent lamps
But vague outlines and forms –
Figures undefined.

I was afraid, just a little.
For the unknown is scary.

In anatomy dissection atlases,
The veins are blue, the nerves are yellow, the arteries red.
The vessels are never tangled, the muscles large and robust, the proportions exact.
Precise little font and precise little lines label each part.
Bodies are perfect.
And Bodies are flat

Age 91 –
Occupation – teacher.
It’s ironic now that I think about it
A teacher, even after his passing.
But back then, they just were two lines on a mostly empty paper.

We unzipped the long vinyl bags.
Zip, zip.
The sounds of 17 jagged rows of plastic teeth giving way.
Carefully peeled back the cloth covering –
And there he was,
Lying there serenely.

I was not serene.
Everything looked the same
The nerves, the arteries, the veins.
Everything was in between and on top of, beneath, and intertwined.
A symphony of parts – the melody of which I could not detect –
A kaleidoscope whose colors I could see but pattern not discern.

We dissected – slowly –
Muttered –
Is this important? Am I cutting a nerve?
Is this a nerve? Maybe it’s an artery.
Everything was important.
Everything was interconnected.

But I was afraid, still.
For I was looking in the face of someone who ceased to breathe,
For whom the curtains of life had closed.

I hadn’t realized that through death, I was learning of life.
And that it was though death that life could be prolonged
Because some time, somewhere, there had been a man or woman –
Lying on a metal table –
Another teacher,
And another student.

They had met, and from the teacher the student learned how joints moved,
How the muscles flexed – how the knee bent.
And some time, some where,
This student had created the artificial knee that had bore my teacher’s weight,
Walked him from place to place –
Away from home and back again.

Some time, somewhere, there had been a man or woman –
Lying on a metal table,
Another teacher.
And another student.

And from the teacher the student learned the functions of the heart –
How it beat, how it pulsed –
And some time, some where,
This student had created the artificial valves
That had allowed my teacher’s heart to beat for 91 years.

I am afraid no longer –
Merely thankful –
For those eight months in which I learned 
of the complexity of life –
The beauty of the human body –
The generosity of human heart.

He was aged 91.
And he was my teacher.

– written by: Valecia Liew

 

2nd Year…A Pause to Remember a Sacred Oath

Paige, Second Year Medical StudentAs is evident by the fact that this is my first blog post since the summer before year 2 of medical school commenced, 2nd year is BUSY!  Last year, we heard the 2nd year students grumble about how much they missed 1st year and how busy and completely consuming the ominous 2nd year was.  However, as a 1st year student, it was hard to believe that things could really be that much more difficult.  Little did I know, all the grumblings about 2nd year being one of the most difficult years of my academic life would indeed be indeed prove to be true.  In addition to a heavy academic load that includes: Pathophysiology, Pathology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Neurology, Psychopathology, Preventive Medicine, and Biochemistry there are the additional requirements of labs, self-study lectures, continuity clinics, medical simulation labs, clinical skills OSCEs, and the ever-looming Step 1 test that will basically determine which residency programs we will be eligible for upon completing medical school.  Throw in extracurricular service activities, time to eat (cooking optional), exercise, spending time with loved ones, and devoting time to building a relationship with God and needless to say, there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish everything with the type of perfectionistic approach that we medical students desire.

If you have read my blog posts prior to this, you must be thinking, “Wow, this girl has suddenly become quite the Debbie Downer!”  I hope that you will continue to read however, because it has been this process of fully realizing the difficulty and challenges of medicine that has shown me even more of the immense value of this profession that I have chosen to pursue.  Moreover, it has shown me that even when things get tough—which they do—if you have the right support system, priorities, and determination, it can be done!

As I sit here on my last weekend of Christmas break and reflect over the past few months since beginning this year, I can honestly say that there have been many times, in fact, the majority of times when I have not had my priorities straight.  Relationships with family, friends, and God have all been stretched to the limit as I have put school again and again at the top of my priority list.  I have always had to work hard in school, but I have always been up for the challenge and have always truly enjoyed the process of learning.  Yet, at the beginning of this Christmas break I was exhausted, burnt out, and dreading the thought of once again immersing myself in the firehose of information that never gets turned off.  As far as I was concerned, the challenge was starting to look like it was a bit more than I could handle.

However, God showed me once again in a most unsuspecting way that He was the one guiding and sustaining me down this career path.  On New Year’s Eve my family had the opportunity to visit the Reagan National Library near my sister’s house in Ventura, California.  There are thousands of quotes scattered throughout this exhibition of President Reagan’s life story and accomplishments, and it would take days to read all of the information provided about the life of this incredible man.  We only had a few hours to walk the museum so we casually perused the information, taking note of just the main highlights.  One quote, tucked away in the volumes of information, stood out to me immediately.  It was spoken by President Reagan on his inauguration day and read, “I consider the trust that you have placed in me sacred, and I give you my sacred oath that I will do my utmost to justify your faith.”

Upon reading this quote, I was immediately struck with awe at the relevance it had in my own life.  It reminded me of that day a year and half ago when I recited a sacred oath “To Make Man Whole” and received a white coat that would signify the sacred trust of many patients that I would soon encounter.  I have no doubt that God used this quote to remind me of the reasons why I am currently working so diligently to conquer this difficult 2nd year of medical school.  As I look to begin this last 6 months of year 2, I am reinvigorated by this reminder of the sacred trust that has been placed in us as healthcare providers, and our sacred oath to be the best physicians that we can be in order to justify the faith that our future patients will have in us.

First Few Weeks as a Med Student

James, First Year Medical Student“What is it like to be a medical student?” “What does a typical day look like?” “How do you balance between school and having a life?”–these are questions that I often wondered and asked when I was still a pre-med student. Unsurprisingly, I still cannot answer these questions myself at this point. In fact, sometimes I have to remind myself that I am already a medical student and I marvel at the thought that I will (almost certainly) become a physician in a couple of years. In the past three weeks, there have been times when I felt overwhelmed with what is expected of me and there have been times when I felt motivated by other students, doctors and patients. A fellow first-year student told me today that we are so fortunate to be here in medical school and I couldn’t agree more. For this reason, I will try my best to share some empowering as well as memorable moments from these past weeks.

Freshman Picnic: Entering A Christian Community

I have been in Loma Linda two times in my life. The first time was for the application interview and my girlfriend’s family brought me here. The second time is when I flew into Ontario International Airport the morning before orientation day. I was in a strange place and part of me felt excited to be independent. I pride myself on being independent at a young age since I lived away from my family about one third of my life. I was eager to explore the neighborhood around me, find out the best place to get groceries, and meet new friends.

Later that day, I went to school to try on my white coat and attended the freshman picnic. When the picnic started with a prayer, I felt a sense of peace and familiarity knowing that I am in a Seventh-Day Adventist community. It was a bit of a shock to me because I did not know that praying in an unfamiliar place with a large group of unfamiliar people actually gives me a sense of belonging. This feeling tells me that I am in a unique medical school and it is such a blessing to be spiritually connected to my peers and the faculty.

The White Coat Ceremony

During the first day of orientation, we were introduced to policies and other logistics in the student handbook as well as the numerous clubs and organizations on campus. Once again, I felt like I was back in college freshman year when I had to learn the structure of a curriculum, what was required to obtain a degree, and all the resources available to make the best out of my education.

When the day came to an end, I was excited about the White Coat Ceremony in the evening. I had already told my family that the ceremony would be online so they could watch it even when they were in Taiwan. I also told my girlfriend and my best friend who are in Washington about the live stream and I was really happy to receive texts from them saying that they were watching the ceremony.

As we lined up on the sides of the chapel and waited for our names to be called, I trembled from excitement and nervousness. I even reminded myself to walk really carefully so I wouldn’t trip on the stage! When Dr. Hadley helped me put on my coat, I struggled a little, but fortunately it did not take a significant amount of time. As I looked into the crowd, I started to wish that my family in Taiwan was looking at me on the live stream. Unfortunately, they had just moved into a new apartment and did not have internet available yet. When we returned to the stage to take the Physician’s Oath, parents started taking pictures of the students on stage and I started imagining the proud and smiling faces of each of my family members, grandparents, girlfriend, and best friend. When I saw parents and siblings waving and smiling at us, I felt like I was seeing my own family waving at me. It sounds strange but it’s true!

Symbolically, the White Coat Ceremony is the beginning of our medical professional. It helps us realize that we have chosen a career path that requires tremendous dedication and our utmost moral standards. As we all solemnly recited the oath, I felt our vigor and enthusiasm radiate across the entire chapel. Our voices said “This is the moment we have been waiting for. Starting now, we go from being cared for to taking care of others. Our hands will heal others and our words will guide the lives of many. We joyfully take on the responsibilities bestowed upon us and we will follow the example of our teachers. We will exemplify a Christ-like character in our practice and minister to all those around us with compassion and humility.”

Ward Experience: Patient-Centered Care

For the next two weeks, I spent the morning at Riverside County Region Medical Center shadowing an internal medicine team. I was amazed by how much 3rd year medical students know and how fast they learn in their rotations. They were given a number of patients that they were in charge of and they worked up the patients during pre-rounds. Part of me looks forward to the day when I am as knowledgeable and skilled as them but part of me also wonders how I will get there. Nonetheless, my partner first-year student and I tried to be as helpful as we could by grabbing charts, getting order forms, printing patient notes out, offering to help, and by staying out of the way.

Oftentimes, we could help with patients’ needs just by noticing their requests or asking them. One time, a patient wanted to have the nurse help him turn over to the other side because he was getting uncomfortable. After I spoke to a nurse, I went back and told the patient that a nurse should be coming soon. He was quite happy and thanked me for me. A small amount of gratitude such as that made me so ecstatic and I just can’t wait to do more for patients.

One assignment we had was to interview patients, listen to their feelings, and find out how their illnesses influenced them. My partner and I spoke with two patients and prayed for them. Ever since the interview, we always greeted them when we had a chance. Before we left, my partner gave one of the patients a small stuffed teddy bear in a praying posture because she said she likes to pray. She smiled was so brightly that it warmed both of our hearts.

During the pre-rounds, I also saw a medical student on our team chat with his patient and I was able to see the patient in a completely different light. She usually seemed unwilling to talk because of her discomfort. However, in the pre-rounds, the medical student joked around and laughed with the patient and I found that she is actually quite humorous. She jokingly complained about things and swore in front of us, which I find very amusing. The medical student demonstrated that physicians can definitely ease the discomfort of patients and make sure their thoughts are heard. It also helps with their cooperation. I learned a lot from the Blue (ninja) team and have added a few more people to my list of role model physicians.

Special thanks to members of the Blue Team: Dr. Chitsazan, Dr. Lewis, Vu, Kenley, Genoveva, Juan, Tiffany, Marly, and Stewart.

Medical Strategic Network Practicum: Power of Listening

On the Friday of the second week, I attended the Medical Strategic Network practicum and I was able to begin learning how to practice whole person by listening to the spiritual well-being of two patients. As I sat in a dim room on the bedside of a patient, listening to him talk about his faith, I felt the light shining on him grew brighter and warmer. I noticed the times when his eyes grew misty and his voice seemed to almost choke up. Here is a man whose faith has carried him through difficult times and given him strength when he thought he would not make it. He expressed graciousness and thankfulness to God, and I realized that he was my teacher and I was his pupil. As I sat with him, he taught me the importance of having faith despite the circumstances, the power of being listened to, and the need for me to be humble and listen to what he had to say. It was an incredible experience and the deepest conversation I have had with a person who I do not know anything about. This speaks to the unique privilege that health care providers have and the incredible effect it has on people when we truly listen to thoughts that are otherwise never told to complete strangers.

Gross Anatomy: Bodies With Stories

Just this week, actual classes have started and the gross anatomy class has always been something that I had looked forward to early this summer. When it came time for anatomy lab, we were showed something during the orientation that always came up in my mind every time I see our cadaver. We were shown letters written by the donors and one of it read:

“I want you to know that am making my final gift to mankind and leaving it to you to ensure it is delivered. Please know that the bones, muscle, the tubes, cords, and organs within me did know love, pain, hardship, and joy. My eyes have seen the beauty of this world and my feet have crossed only a small portion of its mountains and streams. My hands both gentle and strong have tried to impart comfort to the world. I revel in the memories my mind has stored and I wish I would have used my lips to smile at a stranger or a loved one a bit more often…”

Upon reading this letter, I felt sad, as if I was the donor and the hands that I used to touch my loved ones and my feet that took me to places are to be reduced to cold anatomical terms. During the lab when I studied the muscles in the suboccipital region, I spent a few seconds each looking at the arms that are still slightly pink, her shoulder that is freckled and aged, and her scalp that was shaved. I remembered that she once was alive and her body still holds her life story. She is not just a cadaver, but a teacher who has dedicated herself in a way more than all my other teachers had and I am very grateful for that.

There are a lot of thoughts to be shared because being a “student physician” requires me to see people and lives so differently. This level of involvement is unprecedented, personally, and it makes me constantly evaluate myself and think about the kind of physician I want to be. So, after being a Loma Linda medical student for three weeks, I have felt a wide spectrum of emotions from admiration and enthusiasm to feeling overwhelmed and insignificant. As far as I can tell, each of these emotions is going to feel more intense down the road! But for now, first week of classes, check!

Last Summer Ever

Janna, Second Year Medical StudentGoodbye summer…  Hello second year!

So, another year has begun. From what I’ve heard, this year will be as tough as a femur, possibly the most sleepless year of our med school lives. We’ll have many things to look forward to, such as OSCEs, labs, clinics, exam weeks, and the ominous step one.

We’re supposedly renewed and rejuvenated from the nine weeks of summer. I’m not sure how much rest I’ve stockpiled, but my summer was certainly packed with fun activities. Outside of the eight to nine hours a day of researching, I started wedding planning, finally said “yes!” to the dress, acted as a skit character in VBS, went back to my childhood and watched Disney’s Suite Life of Zack and Cody, listened to Adventures in Odyssey, grilled corn over a campfire, ran a half marathon, and completed an Olympic triathlon with my med school buddies. Click here to see the highlights of our triathlon.

My body was pushed to its limits, and now my brain will get a turn.

Goodbye summer.  Hello second year!

IMG_0652 IMG_0270 IMG_0417 half marathon

Family Day

Janna, First Year Medical Student
Last Friday was Family Day! Students excitedly showed their parents where they have lectures, burrow away to study, dissect cadavers, practice with ultrasound machines, and more.

I felt blessed to be able to sit between my mom and dad during the first lecture of the day by Dr. Chase. My dad was in a fluke skiing accident just the week before. One of his skis got stuck between two trees and he fell onto a thin, icy double black diamond in Mammoth. Sliding down on his back, he went head-first into a tree, shattering his helmet.

By the grace of God and the skilled hands of the ski patrol and hospital personnel, my dad underwent CT scans, an MRI, plain-film x-rays, and a jet evacuation to Reno. Having completed my first section of neuroscience, I had learned terms that I was nowhere near prepared to apply to real people, especially family. Even with a rudimentary knowledge, it was terrifying to know the implications of words like subarachnoid hemorrhage and C6 fractures.

Despite his injuries, my dad insisted on attending Family Day. He woke up at 6 am to put on his suit, so we would not have any excuse not to take him when we left. However, my mom and I (and probably the wearing off of the Norco) convinced him to go home to rest after the first lecture. After sleeping all day, he came back in the evening for the alumni dinner and dedication vespers.

My family thanks God for keeping my dad alive, and his healing hand as my dad is on his way to a slow recovery. Thank you to all who have been praying and are continuing to pray.

If any of you are going skiing or snowboarding, please, please, please wear a helmet. To see a picture of my dad’s helmet, click here: Wear a helmet.

Family Day