On Veterans Day, we published a piece from a fourth-year medical student titled “From Hanoi to the Streets: One Prisoner of War’s Path to Homelessness.” It described the story of a patient, shared with permission, who identified himself as a veteran of the Vietnam War. Several comments on the piece, including some by historians working at accredited universities, have since raised concerns about the patient’s story.
“I robbed my first bank when I was nine years old,” said Mr. L in the same matter-of-fact tone he always used when he shared equally shocking self-proclamations. Mr. L was a plump, grey-haired man in his seventies whose hooked wooden cane was never out of arm’s reach. His toothless grin and honeyed southern twang softened his otherwise hardened demeanor.
I refreshed the page over and over again, thinking that a different number would magically appear instead, but it never did. I then picked up the phone to call my mom. I choked out the words, “I failed out of medical school.”
I first met you at age 13. / You hid behind a / camouflage of naivety.
Humans understand things in contradictory pairs. We are not standing still if we’re moving. To move to a new place means leaving behind another.
During our psychiatry block, I learned how the aching sadness within me curls through my brain. It begins in the thalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus — three points that sit like stars in my body’s sky.
My struggle began around nine months before my eventual diagnosis. This was on a background of an entire lifetime governed by this haunting feeling that something was different. Or that something was not right. Yet being the overachiever that I was, no one noticed. I was always left to question whether my reactions were just a disproportionate reaction to certain life events. And I was repeatedly told the same thing.
I have always toyed with the idea that I may have depression. Numerous times I have looked over the various depression diagnoses and their criteria. But then I settle on the idea that my thoughts and emotions and struggle are not severe enough. Everyone experiences sadness. Everyone experiences grief.
Administrative assistant, nurse and high school volunteer were just a few of the titles people assumed I was when they saw me sitting in the office of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Often to their surprise, I was a medical student starting my summer research project between my first and second year. It became immediately clear that seeing a young woman associated with orthopedic surgery was not something many people were used to.
Monday mornings of my first semester of med school I’d reach into the smaller pocket of my backpack, grabbing around until I heard that pill-rattle sound. Over time, it’d come to rival my coffee machine in its Pavlovian salivation production.