Since medical school is so time consuming, even the shortest holidays make it feel as if one hasn’t been at school for a while. As a result, despite the fact that we have fewer days off, their durations always feel enough; this Spring Break was no different. Now, even though I say “no different”, this break was unique in the way that it was the same length (and was at the same time) as the Spring Break the undergraduate students were getting. However, this break’s duration was artificially shortened by me since I decided to spend a lot of time working at the clinic instead. Strangely enough, even despite this decision, Spring Break felt just as long as it has felt in the past and probably left me feeling more fulfilled than I have ever felt after a school break.
Instead of visiting my home in Houston, I decided to stay at my apartment in Fort Worth so that I could spend some time at a nearby mission clinic. The clinic is part of a church metroplex where physicians, nurses, medical students, and any other volunteers can provide free healthcare to the nearby uninsured community. Having grown up with health insurance, I would find it shocking just how many people needed medical attention every day; more people would line up outside the clinic (sometimes hours before it would open) than the clinic would be able to see nearly every day. Since any help was welcomed, it was a great experience for medical students (both in terms of practicing triaging and in terms of practicing their Spanish) and even students considering pursuing education in the medical field.
Because I planned on spending as much time as I could at the clinic during Spring Break, I decided to take it easy during the weekend preceding the actual days off. Knowing that UT Dallas (my undergraduate college) would also be on Spring break the next week, I decided to text my old room mate Charlie (who was working on a Masters degree) to see if I could visit. All this time, despite living only an hour from my old life, this would only be the second time that I would be going back to visit– I guess the difference in life style between then and now is just so distinct in my mind that I never feel like I have the time to go back very often.
Since my friend Linh (also working on a Masters) had gone home for the break, I was only able to spend time with Charlie that day. Two room mates hanging out just like old times. What I find interesting (and a little touching) is how Charlie’s demeanor subtly changes during these times– you can just hear it in the voice. At any rate, we didn’t do much that day other than reminisce and otherwise just catch up. Charlie is rather terrible at using any sort of instant messenger so we had a lot to talk about. We did play the game Twisted Metal briefly on the PS3 which was a fun experience because we had previously beaten the entire game together on co-op mode and had since forgotten how to play. It was the sort of spontaneous decision that I had forgotten how quickly we would immerse ourselves in when living together.
Afterwards, I wanted to see the campus since I had heard that the school had built a new Arts and Technology building. As we walked to campus, I would think about how I would make a similar walk every day to get to class and how I no longer take walks of such lengths since I now commute to my school in a car. We walked from building to building with the new ATEC building as our first stop. The building had some cool things in it but was very clearly supposed to be built in some sort of abstract “artsy” style that frankly didn’t really match with… anything really. In typical UTD fashion, it appeared to be just finished enough to be inhabitable but was clearly missing things that would no doubt be fixed only after the school receives next semester’s tuition. Aside from that building, I was rather surprised at how much the campus had changed in my absence. While everything felt familiar at first glance, there were so many details that had changed that I felt somewhat disconnected from my surroundings. In addition, they had completely torn up the land between my old research building and the honor student lounge (both areas that I would frequent) for renovations. I’m sure a good deal of it was psychological, but the campus no longer felt like my campus any more; frankly, a part of me is glad that I have been able to move on despite being hesitant at first.
As we returned to Charlie’s place, we decided to go eat dinner at a restaurant called MOOYAH. As the two of us were learning how to cook, we would often frequent this place during midterms and finals. I liked the place since they would make the burgers fresh and with large portions. Naturally, we conversed over the meal, just as we would do on almost a daily basis before. Despite how eccentric the two of us act, we still engage in fairly serious discussions from time to time, especially regarding the future and our respective healths.
When we once again returned home, we just hung around for a while, showing each other things of interest. I showed Charlie some of the games that I have been playing on my Vita as well as my replay data of the final boss in Prinny 2. Charlie showed me a hilarious “demo” of a Sonic game made in Game Maker: Studio which crashed after about 15 seconds of game play. Over all, it was a very nonspecific visit which exemplified quite clearly how much we valued each others’ company. Oddly satisfied, I headed home at about 9:30pm so that I could get enough sleep for the clinic the next day.
I started the day by waking up early and eating breakfast. I was going to pick up my friend Josin so that we could go to the clinic together– after all, the experience would be much more fun with a friend. When I reached our rendezvous point, I saw a text from Josin saying that Saurabh, a mutual friend, had told him that the clinic would be opening an hour later. I quickly cleared up the misunderstanding by informing him that the clinic opened an hour later for patients (not for staff) and told him to hurry up so that we could leave. For inconveniencing us, I neglected to relay this information to Saurabh (and later forgot too which hilariously resulted in him coming an hour or more late the rest of the week– we just assumed that was being lazy as usual).
The drive was fairly calm with Josin and I discussing school stuff. After reaching the clinic and parking, we made our way to the triage room to get ready for the waves of patients that we would soon be navigating. We were thrilled to find a classmate named Nayana there as well as some nursing students from the nearby Texas Christian University campus. A few other acquaintances from class also dropped by which, as per our class’ social culture, we instantly became best friends with. Triaging patients was not particularly difficult, with the most difficult task being to actually communicate with the large proportion of non-English speaking patients. Since the majority of the patients spoke Spanish, I was able to recall some of the Spanish that I had learned in high school, greatly expand my vocabulary pertaining to medicine, and interact with the Spanish-speakers (albeit in a broken manner) enough to ascertain why they were at the clinic. After a few hours of triaging, Saurabh finally trundled through the door with all his mass which naturally prompted me to disappointedly interject “ugh, why are you here?”
At lunch time, our new friend Kal offered to drive us to a nearby restaurant. He found a place called Panda House with good reviews on Yelp so we piled into his car and drove there. Normally, I avoid eating Asian food due to their tendency of being high in sodium and pure carbs, but I decided to stick around since after all, I was on holiday and know how to enjoy myself when the time arises. Saurabh showcased his corpulence during our meal by giving everything from the menu to the lighting to the food a star-rating. In short, it was a satisfying and fun meal and the entire group returned to the clinic content.
In mid afternoon, the triage rush had died down as the volunteer doctors slowly worked their way through all the checked in patients. During this time, our group sat around the triage room with the nursing students (who had mostly been keeping to themselves) and sort of talked about our lives. Of course, as is consistent with medical school culture, we also exchange a fair amount of gossip with one another, with the main headline being a recent drug scandal in our class. While the rumors are hard to separate from the truth, the gist of the story was that 5+ of our classmates have been expelled (with some others repeating the year) since they were essentially running a drug distribution ring. Dealing in performance enhancers like Adderall and typical street drugs such as Marijuana, a good portion of the class was able to get their hands on these substances which prompted the administration to come in one day and deliver an ultimatum: They had a list of users which will be expelled unless they reported themselves (in which case they would likely repeat the year).
The rumors sort of muddy just how the administration got its hands on such a “list”, but apparently the ex-girlfriend of the drug “leader” emailed him on his school email asking for some drugs and the school called him in for an impromptu drug test which he tested positive for. (As per our student code of conduct, we submit ourselves to any drug tests the administration provides, for any reason). As a bargaining chip, the leader offered to give them a list of the people he sold to in hopes for a lighter sentence. The administration took the list with no promises and promptly expelled him– there’s no room for his behavior in the medical field. Sadly, this little incident has also earned our class a reputation of being the “druggie class” at school, but hopefully things will clear up from here on out.
Our discussions were interrupted when a small army of teenagers marched in and began cleaning everything in sight. Teenagers at juvenile detention facilities had the task of cleaning the clinic as part of their community service requirements. While they didn’t look inherently misbehaved, I almost felt as if I was watching prisoners (especially as I spotted a few who had slipped out of sight into the back alley to avoid work). At any rate, we took this as our cue to leave for the day and I dropped Josin back at his place. It was an eventful day and I promptly fell asleep upon reaching home.
The next day brought with it a similar routine except for the fact that the clinic was open until 9pm which we chose to stay for. I met up with Josin just like the day before and eventually also with our pal Saurabh. Kal was also back and this time brought a friend named Jerica (who we were of course also happy to welcome to our brigade). The nursing students were not there but there was a pretentious pre-medical student named Lindsey who kept ranting that whatever she does, medical schools just wont take her. While we collectively stood in awe at the fact that she was standing there dressed like a punk (torn-up clothing), she practically drilled all of us for details about what was on our applications that “got us into med school.” Of course, we only provided her the most bare-bones of information while we exchanged knowing glances with one another, understanding why no one would want to take her. Lindsey’s rant was interrupted with a doctor inviting us into a room to see a surgery (except Lindsey, which hilariously resulted in her running away into the halls screaming “NO ONE WANTS ME!”)
For lunch, Kal once again offered to drive while Jerica suggested a Lebanese restaurant called the Beirut Rock Cafe that she had previously visited. Since Mediterranean food is the healthiest in the world (to the point that our school even offers programs to help learn how to cook it), the food was right in line with the meals I typically seek out when searching for a place to eat. The food as I had anticipated was delicious and I was happy to eat proper Tabouli salad (which makes my cruddy home-made version pale in comparison). Saurabh managed to take a plate of perfectly healthy mediterranean food and dump french fries all over the dish to make it more suitable to his tastes.
Once again, we found some down-time after returning to the clinic and went to the triage room to hold our now traditional post-lunch “tea party”. When we got there, we found a second year student named Holly who (like most second years that I have encountered) was more than happy to share helpful pearls of wisdom with us first years. Saurabh practically asked for criticism and/or insults based on the way that he talked, but Holly was notable in the way that despite just meeting Saurabh, she completely TRASHED him with insults (most of which he was just asking for). As usual, no one was on Saurabh’s side and I also contributed to the onslaught from time to time with my usual tactic of creatively implying that he is fat. In a funny, somewhat uncharacteristic lapse, Saurabh told Holly that he hates her even more than he hates me (which he frequently tells me) because Holly’s insults were “real” while the things I tell him are “bro-sults” to him because we have that special social dynamic. All in all, it was a fun evening of watching the guy make himself look stupid on account of him spouting the most moronic things one can possibly say.
If I was tired Monday evening, I was utterly exhausted Tuesday night on account of the longer hours. Josin had other obligations today and Saurabh texted me to tell me that he would be taking the day off to play DotA. Luckily, Kal and Jerica were there and I was able to have just as much fun as I would have with Saurabh and Josin (even if I didn’t have someone to playfully rub the wrong way throughout the course of the day). As usual, we took to the streets during our lunch break to seek out a restaurant and settled on an odd place called Vietalia. The food they served was exactly what one would expect… Vietnamese and Italian. Now, while most people from either of those nationalities might argue that the food there “can’t be good”, none of us frequently ate meals from those ethnicities so we were perfectly fine with the dishes we received. Feeling adventurous in Spring Break spirit, I decided to try bubble tea for the first time and absolutely loved it (it was green tea flavored). As I happily walked out with my drink, Kal sees a Japanese ice cream shop next door called Shojimoto Ice Cream and drags us there despite the both of us stating that we wouldn’t get anything. The shop had a number of interesting flavors including Taro and other Asia-based foods (many of which were not in English, which is why I cannot remember them) so I did my share of sample-tasting. I finally settled on Taro and it’s luscious smooth flavor and walked out with two scoops of it despite entering the store with no intention of getting anything.
Back at the clinic, there was nothing else particularly out of the ordinary except for a young girl and her mother who had come in to see the volunteer pediatrician who was present that day. They caught my attention because I heard a familiar song coming from their patient room: a MIDI version of Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. As I poked my head through the door, I saw the little girl playing a Java version of the game on her mother’s old cell phone. As I began to waste time by telling the mom how I used to play Sonic all the time, the little girl comes up to me and hands me something that she must have found in the room. If it was someone older, my response would have been akin to “whut” but since she was very young, I humored her with my obvious inexperience with seeing pediatric patients. “Wow, thanks! I… sure love alcohol pads! Use ’em all the time!” Unfortunately, the story behind the two is less amusing. The mother kept insisting that the girl had illnesses that she did not appear to have. We suspected that she might have been trawling for drugs or simply seeking attention (since she was a regular at the clinic) through her daughter a la Münchausen syndrome by proxy.
The week was flying by and every day brought with it new experiences and new faces. Today, Kal and Jerica decided to take the day off while Josin and Saurabh came to help out. Compared to other days, the day was fairly standard and smooth-sailing, especially since Saurabh, Josin, and I were used to working together at school. With Kal gone, Saurabh offered to drive us to Beirut Rock Cafe again for lunch since we had enjoyed it. Josin originally wanted to go back to Panda House since it was cheaper, but Saurabh and I vetoed him because the foot at the Lebanese place was simply better quality (and Saurabh really wanted the baklava dessert there).
I recall the clinic still being fairly busy after we returned, but the three of us were sort of in “downtime mode” at the same time. There was one interesting patient around 22 years old who I triaged however. While I was taking all her vitals, Saurabh and Josin sat in the back of the room doing nothing since they were a little sleepy from the meal. Naturally, I called them out on this so they did the next best thing– sit on their stools and stare at me and my patient like a pair of spaced-out cows. The patient thought we were hilarious because, while we were doing our jobs and helping one another out (they eventually began writing down information on her chart), we were constantly giving each other a hard time verbally. To her, it was a hilarious mismatch of teamwork (action-wise) and antagonism (verbal-wise). Later, we found out that she was manager for a nation-wide Christian radio station (my friends recognized the name, but I did not). Saurabh asked for a shout-out for the three of us which she happily agreed to. After the patient was discharged, the physician’s assistant came into our room and told us how fond that lady was about us and how we apparently made her day.
One of the last patients I triaged that day was a young teenage boy who was there with his mother. Naturally, I was chipper while processing him but I was a little taken aback when the mother (who was a registered nurse) told me that I had wonderful bedside manner. It just sort of surprised me since I wasn’t particularly going out of my way to act any differently, but I has happy to know that I was able to set patients at ease with my demeanor. To top it off, the pediatrician sought me out at the end of his shift to personally thank me for my help. For us medical students, it is usually the opposite!
Spring break’s over guys…
It was almost a sad day since our break was over and this would be the last time that we would be spending time working together at the clinic. The day was a rather straightforward one, but was made infinitely better when a pre-medical student named Stephanie came in, instantly catching Saurabh’s eye. Since we had a lot of down-time even before lunch, we had a lot of opportunity to talk in the triage room. We spent a good portion of our time talking with Stephanie about which schools she’ll be applying to and giving her general advice for her application. Saurabh would jump in from time to time, showcasing his thinly-veiled infatuation with Stephanie while simultaneously making himself look like a tool. Such interjections would usually be followed up with a remark from me casually referencing his similarity to a hippopotamus which would result in the room bursting in laughter. Saurabh, unable to deny the creativity of some of my jabs, explained our dynamic to Stephanie. “See, with you, friendships would probably be ruined if one of you called the other fat. But with us? These bonds don’t break!”
Enjoying each others’ company, we sought out a place called Bethany’s at the recommondation of a school-mate over text. Despite not being at the clinic with us, our acquaintance named Mike (a Masters student at our school) met us at Bethany’s and hung out with us for a bit. While I didn’t find the place particularly noteworthy, what was of note was the fact that the shelves were covered with manga for patrons to read. The atmosphere as a result was quite nice. Finally, at the end of the day, we were exhausted and said our goodbyes, saying that we would see each other once school started on Monday.
I had no plans for the day aside from studying, but my plans were interrupted upon receiving a call from Josin. “[Nightmaren]… I need your help”, said the weak voice. Josin had gotten food poisoning from yesterday. The shrimp he had (on account of wanting to avoid meat) must have been undercooked and he had been losing fluids all night. At his request, I drove 20 minutes to his New York style apartment building (a building that was likely built in the 40s containing 3 other units) to get him some Gatorade to restore his electrolytes. Immediately after consuming them, he began to feel better and I stayed for a bit to make sure he could take care of himself. He then asked me if I could stay a little while longer since his dad was concerned and was coming over, but was also upset that he was sick to begin with (foreign parents!) Since his dad was less likely to full-out rage at him with me present, I agreed and stayed for a bit longer. After his dad arrived, I made sure everyting was ok then got back into my car to head home.
It was a rainy day out.
Despite the weather being absolutely beautiful, my Spring Break this year did not contain any swimsuits or lazing around on my comfy bed. One might argue that I wasted my Spring Break by spending the majority of my time at the clinic, but I cannot tell you how fulfilled I felt at its conclusion.
I’ve often wondered what life outside of school would be like. I’ve never held a conventional job outside of a college campus and will be 25 years old when graduating with my degree (if all goes well). That’s a lot of schooling for a large portion of my life. My time at the clinic gave me a bit of insight as to what work in the field I hope to be in could be like. I spent a week doing what I love, working together with my friends/peers, and enjoying the breaks in between. We helped people who were always happy to be seen by us, worked as a team to get things done, and gave each other a hard time in the process. When the need arose, I was happy to take time out of my day to help a friend in need.
This week… this entire experience… that’s what it’s all about.