An exam room had just opened up. I picked up the next file and brought in the patient to record his vitals and concerns. Inside the room, he smiled and told me he didn’t speak English. There was only one translator available that day, and she was busy working with the physicians. I smiled back and told him I knew little Spanish, but I would try.
From my Spanish classes and my summer building homes in Tijuana, I had learned just enough Spanish to get by. When all else failed, I resorted to gestures and random verbs and nouns I recalled from my Spanish classes. Doler, Donde? (to hurt, where?), I asked. He caught on, smiled, and began to gesture back. It became a game of charades, and we were both laughing at our attempts to communicate.
The patient watched my shameless attempt at Spanish and handed gestures and happily reciprocated. At that moment, we made a connection despite our language barriers. I know how vulnerable people can feel in an exam room -how embarrassing and uncomfortable it can be to share our personal lives with a complete stranger. However, I believe that physicians can work to overcome these issues and make genuine connections with each patient.
While shadowing a general surgeon last winter, we met with a patient who had developed a stomal stenosis after a colostomy. The opening in her abdomen had become constricted, causing an obstruction and abdominal pain. The surgeon decided to help dilate the stoma. She was very shy and embarrassed by her colostomy and told her husband and daughter to leave the room as we prepared for the procedure. As the surgeon dilated the stoma, I assisted with the gauze and replaced the medical buckets used to empty the contents from her bowels.
During this time, she looked at me and bashfully apologized for the smell and mess. I reassured her that everything was fine, that there was no need to be uncomfortable, and continued to talk to her as if this was a normal Tuesday morning for me. My goal was to comfort her and show that there was absolutely no reason for her to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. As we were leaving the room, she smiled and thanked us.
Particularly in the field of medicine, humility and a passion for helping others can help overcome many barriers. It helps people feel safe and supported during their time of difficulty. Whether it was from volunteering at a free clinic or tutoring a 5th grader, I quickly saw the importance of these qualities. Furthermore, each interaction helped me learn more about myself, my weaknesses, and my potential for personal growth.
While obtaining my Nurse Aid Certification, I grew close with one of my classmates. Every day, my friend would ask me for the time. Though confused considering the clock was on the wall to our right, I nonchalantly told her the time and moved on. One day, she confided in me that she didn’t know how to read an analog clock and had failed the written portion of several certification exams.
During the following weeks, I helped her prepare for the certification exam. It became glaringly apparent that the only difference between us were the schools we had attended. I had somehow scathed by with half the effort and diligence that she had. I turned red with embarrassment. It felt like I had cheated through life. That day, I made three promises to myself: to always help those who weren’t dealt a fair hand, always put 110% into everything I do, and never again fall victim to my naiveté.
As a child, my inquisitive nature annoyed adults. While some kids asked why they had to brush their teeth every day, I needed to know how neglecting to brush your teeth can lead to cavities. In high school, when my aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I needed to know how the tumor was making her deteriorate so quickly. Convinced that I could help alleviate some of her pain if I could understand her cancer, I was frustrated by my limited understanding of medicine.
While working on my master’s degree in physiology, I took courses alongside first- year medical students. These courses included the Gastrointestinal, Endocrine, and Reproduction (GER) block-one of the two most challenging blocks at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. In GER, I was finally taught content that quenched my curiosity-no longer just the symptoms but the ‘how’ that always perplexed me.
Eight years after my aunt passed away, I now understand that the tumor had likely obstructed the small bowel distal to the bile duct, causing the bile to collect. I flash back to the day my aunt called, concerned that she hadn’t been able to keep down any food and describing her vomit as a peculiar green color. That day, we admitted her to the hospital and stood by her side for the next eight weeks.
As I finish up my coursework and complete my master’s in physiology, I grow more excited and anxious to begin a career in the field of medicine. The medical blocks were more intriguing and captivatingly challenging than any course I had ever taken. They were a confirmation that I had chosen a career path perfectly suited me. As a physician, I am eager to help make a difference in peoples’ lives as they, in return, mold, shape, and challenge me.