Over the next four weeks, I will share a series of essays with you in which I tell some of those stories. This writing results from the work of a summer, supported by a summer research fellowship in Medical Humanities & Bioethics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, in which I interviewed nine first-year medical students, two third-year medical students, eight anatomy and medical humanities professors, two Anatomical Gift Program staff, three palliative care clinicians, two preregistered donors and one donor’s family member.
We have seen our classmates’ faces, memorized each other’s hometowns and politely chuckled at every “fun fact” introduction despite having heard it countless times. Some of us have admitted to writing down random facts about others as we hear them, hoping to review them later and somehow kindle more profound relationships than the pandemic naturally allows. We virtually contact each other later with a random sentiment trying to relate to someone’s favorite sports team or vacation place.
He and I became friends and fell in love, in part over our shared love of running. I think he would be proud to see how quickly I cover the ground between the chemistry building, my house on campus and my car.
My first day in the morgue was a shock to the system — the smell of death, the sight of rigor mortis and the comfort of everyone around me with the task at hand. I thought my prior health care experience prepared me for this, but it clearly did not.
Improvement is at the core of who physicians are. If we do not strive to be better versions of ourselves, then we are doing a disservice to our patients who deserve good care. However, in order for medical students and physicians to pursue such a lifelong career of learning, we need to decidedly put aside this idea that we can ever be “perfect.” Medical professionals can never be, as Merriam-Webster defines the word, “entirely without fault or defect.”
None of us pictured beginning medical school in a pandemic. Most of us are still in shock we were admitted to medical school owing to severe imposter syndrome. Despite the exceedingly virtual nature of the fall semester — as of now, our only in-person activities are optional anatomy labs — we have hitherto made the most of this experience. Undeterred by the inability to partake in many in-person activities as a class, we are fostering meaningful relationships with our peers online and in person.
I began my journey with the Deaf community before coming to medical school starting with a basic American Sign Language class just to learn a few routine signs. I continued with the American Sign Language Club at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, hoping to learn more medical signs for any future interactions with Deaf patients. Through the club, I recently met an incredible four-year-old boy named John at a local community event to meet Peppa Pig.
Yes, unfortunately, I have become one of the 60,000 and rising daily cases in the nation. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones.
While it is easy to feel stuck and unhappy in this current life-box, I recognize that we must take a few deep breaths and understand that this too shall pass. And that this did pass for all the physicians before us and will pass for all the physicians after us. And we will all get past this together.
While the professor moved to the next slide, my face visibly blanched. All I could hear was the drowning sound of my own heartbeat thumping in my ears. Is this true? I thought. Nothing we can do? Only five years of survival? Did this apply to my grandpa Baba? But Baba has been sick for six years!
Unmotivated to study, I dedicated myself to researching the virus as well as its epidemiological, social and economical impact on our communities. Adjusting to life in quarantine was frustrating, and I felt like I was watching the world turn upside down. However, researching the pandemic felt much more relevant than trying to use all these anatomy apps to fill in gaps created by a lack of practical hands-on learning.
Upon meeting the new children I was babysitting, the little girl Elason immediately asked me if I brought my stethoscope. Her mom had told her that I was a medical student. In the eyes of Elason and Kaje, that made me a superhero. It didn’t matter that I was at the bottom of the food chain in the medical world.