And Then There was Silence

A rare calm has enveloped this place, filling the empty hallways and corridors of TMEC and Vandy. Ever since we hit the ground running in August, we finally have our first real break. Almost everyone has gone home for the holidays and I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. But as I sit here in my room, although it seems like nothing has changed – my room still looks like the same messy self – internally I feel a sense of peace. It could be because I’m done with exams. It could be because for once there are no deadlines and responsibilities. Or it could be because I’m done with Christmas shopping and have escaped from crowded malls and hectic shoppers.

All of these factors have put me in a contemplative mood. I can finally write without having unfinished tutorial assignments left or looming exams coming up. People have asked me how I can write regularly despite being in med school and I tell them that I can’t help it. Once I start writing, I drop everything else and can’t stop until I finish, even if I have an exam the next day. When I started this blog at the beginning of the school year, I didn’t expect to be writing so often. But I enjoy it. And it’s a nice balance to all the memorization we do for class.

Speaking of class, like in college, there are classes that you enjoy and then there are classes that you don’t enjoy as much. Just because this is HMS doesn’t mean that every class is always going to be amazing and intellectually stimulating. Of course this is coming from the guy featured in Asianssleepinginthelibrary.com, but in my defense anatomy was a tough block and I actually did enjoy the class as a whole a lot.

My favorite classes, though, are clinics. Each block, whether it’s biochem, anatomy or genetics, has these clinic sessions where a patient with a relevant syndrome voluntarily comes to share his/her experience. Genetics, the block we just finished, had some great clinics featuring patients with Down Syndrome, Huntington’s Disease and Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (or AIS). Having these patients here is a privilege and being able to learn from them about a disease we are studying in class is fascinating and engaging. I feel like concepts I learn in clinics stick better in my mind because I can associate them with a real live person and story. For instance, I will always remember the person who came in with AIS and spoke to us about what it was like living without a uterus due to a genetic defect. She told moving stories about her difficulty dating and eventual triumph finding a husband and adopting children.

One potential downside of these med school classes is that they have made me more paranoid. I am now afraid that because of my inherited DNA I may get hypertension or stroke. For the most part classes are very much disease-oriented, focusing on the mechanistic pathway, debilitating nature and probabilistic risk of disease. What is missing, however, is an understanding of recovery and resiliency. And that is why I enjoy clinics. Sure we’ve discussed treatment methods in lectures, but what comes out of clinics that don’t often come out of lectures is the human spirit in the face of disease. In what ways do people cope with their diagnosis, embrace their sickness, or accept defeat? How do people draw up the strength and will to continue living after being diagnosed with a terminal illness? What is it like seeing your wife of 50 years lose her sight, movements and memories? These are the kinds of questions that I believe are integral to mastering the art of healing.

In medical school, we are learning to becoming doctors. There is much to learn and the material is infinite. Countless papers are written and published everyday about some new drug, molecule or disease. The truth is we will never know everything about medicine. But we can rest assured that if we learn about how people deal with illness and fight for recovery, we will understand how to heal.

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