April 1st 2013, for an 18-year-old kid was just like any other Monday. Monday’s have always consisted of seeing the same faces on my morning commute to school; whilst inhaling the overwhelming smell of the grimy New York City subway, along with vague traces of coffee. It was about a half past seven when my phone rang, to my surprise; it was my long-lost friend from High school, Katie. Usually during this time of the morning most of my friends are either sleeping or commuting to work; hence, a phone call from anyone other than my mother, was a major surprise. Except then again, it was the first of April, which is always anticipated to be a day full of surprises. Nevertheless, as I proceeded to pick up my phone and acknowledge Katie’s ring, an instant chill ran down my spine. “Tam, its Frances, she’s dead.” Every particle of moisture that was in my mouth has instantly evaporated; my mouth was moving but words could not articulate. The words said, did not make any sense to me. I asked her if this is some sort of revolting April fool’s joke, I know it wasn’t, but every ounce of me was hoping it was; I was officially seeping into denial. On April 1st of 2013, my best friend, Frances, passed away after a long and grim conflict with chemical dependency.
While I tried to get my feet back on the ground after Frances’s death, I worked extremely hard on making my education a priority again, subsequently for the lost time throughout my period of grief. A change of scenery was necessary for me, and without a second though I applied, and was accepted to a semester abroad at Regent’s University London. In London, I took up some behavioral sciences courses, and fell in adoration with the rudiments of psychology, simultaneously becoming overwhelmingly indulged with the art of healing; that was when my curiosity for medicine grew. I wanted to experience the things my professors spoke of. Everything happens for a reason, all the fortunate and unfortunate events in life, shape us to be who we are. Finally, I came closer to understanding who I was, and the meaning I want my life to have.
I imagine health is one of the most, if not the most, important element of life. Without health, nothing else functions within existence. We are incapable of creating families, working, and appreciating life, without health. I volunteered with the National Institute of Mental Health, in Sri Lanka; as it came to my understanding that this part of the world is very much overlooked. Upon my first day of rounds, I could not break my concentration of a stray dog licking the wounds on a patient’s leg. I observed patient negligence, and tremendous misdiagnoses, a concept that I was ignorant to. Apart from terrible sanitary conditions, clinicians were still diagnosing patients with the former Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from 1952. It came to my distraught understanding, that patients were unnecessarily medicated. There were times when I had to sacrifice sleep and stay up late nights thinking of treatment methods on how I can help these adults and children live a more functioning life while being practically tranquilized; this helped me accept that exhaustion is a significant element of life. At this point I grasped my duty; I was determined to solemnly improve the living standards of these disregarded people. I will never ignore the gratification of a simple smile, when words could only do so much. This experience has made me feel like I was part of something bigger than me, and I do not want it to stop there. I was able to connect and communicate with people that otherwise I would have never connected with. I grew an appreciation for individuals that come from all walks of life, which I can thank the medical field for. It was captivating to discover that medicine focuses on improving the lives of those who cannot do it on their own.
Dr. Paul Kalanithi once said “The physician’s Duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face – and make sense of – their own existence”. An unfailing optimism about life and death, has shuffled my outlook on reality. It is an extreme advantage, and humbling privilege to have access to medical education; being able to use this profound knowledge to help others.