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In memory of two very special souls who have passed on: Tess and Sujal, photographed here in December 2008.

New Year’s Resolution: Blog more often.

Fortunately, I have not set the bar for this task very high!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all.  A quick perusal of my most recent blog shows that it was still fall when I last updated, which means that even in Michigan the snow had yet to arrive.  A couple of blizzards, near-blizzards, and friendly dustings later, it is already January 2, 2011.  I have waited for this year for many years–from the moment my fellow classmates and I first put on our shiny new white coats (which, by the way, is currently in a sad state at the bottom of my closet) and were introduced to our friends and families at the White Coat Ceremony as the Class of 2011, this year has had a special ring to it and yet has always seemed so far away.  Until now.  As I rang in the New Year a couple of days ago (or at least came close…it seems my ability to stay up until midnight has diminished in recent years, especially when combined with champagne), it struck me–it’s finally here!  Board exams are done, shelf exams are done, and though there are still multiple challenges ahead in the form of a full month of interviews, an online course called Advanced Medical Therapeutics, a month in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), an elective month of orthopaedic anatomy, and a hospitalist month in internal medicine, the end is finally in sight.

I last left you on the eve of my away rotation in orthopaedic surgery in Boston.  What was originally to be one month ended up as two, as I had the opportunity to rotate at both Tufts University and then Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is part of the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Surgery residency program.  These two months were a blast.  Tufts and Harvard both have wonderful programs, and it was great to spend time with my family and be back in my hometown.  Although the first couple days of working at a new institution can be somewhat of a frenzied experience between getting lost (multiple times) en route to the OR, clinics, and conferences (although I did seem to have a knack for finding the cafeteria), as well as figuring out new computer systems and adjusting to minor-to-major differences in the way things are done at different hospitals (apparently Michigan is quite unique in our practice of always gloving  the non-dominant hand first before surgery), residents and attendings at both places were great in terms of showing me the ropes and helping me get settled.

I rotated in hand surgery during my month at Tufts, and then did a week of joint replacement surgery, a week of spine surgery, and two weeks of orthopaedic trauma surgery at Brigham and Women’s.  One unexpected surprise of rotating at the latter hospital was the opportunity to reunite with a bunch of University of Michigan Medical School alumni who are currently in residency there–between the ER, the cafeteria, and the hallways I saw old friends who are now in the midst of general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, OB/GYN, and ER residencies.  We occasionally celebrated (but more often bemoaned) our football team’s performance and traded updates on mutual friends.

Sometime in the middle of my month at Tufts, I learned that one of our beloved classmates, Sujal, had been involved in a motor vehicle accident in Uganda.  Suj, who was without a doubt one of the most hard-working, passionate, enthusiastic members of our class–and probably any medical school class you could find anywhere–had been in Kampala for the year conducting HIV/AIDS research as a Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar when he sustained life-threatening injuries.  Our Dean’s office kept us in close contact with daily updates on his status, and within days we were informed that his injuries were too severe for him to be saved.  On October 12, 2010, Suj passed away.

It is impossibly difficult to fathom how something so horrible could befall a person so wonderful.  If you were to ask any member of our class who had the most drive, energy, spirit, compassion, knowledge of world events (including everything from politics to education to health care reform), dedication to global health care, and love of his fellow man, I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would respond with a name other than Sujal.  Besides earning the universal respect and admiration of all his classmates, deans, and professors, he was also just incredibly fun to be around.  Not to mention the fact that he was always impeccably well-dressed–it seems like yesterday that I was sitting across from him in his signature sweater-and-button down shirt during the pathology elective we took together in June.

Suj possessed every quality one would ever hope for in a friend, colleague, and physician.  During the pre-clinical years as well as our weekly M3 Seminars in Medicine, he would blow us all away on a near-daily basis by asking such intelligent and insightful questions of our professors and seminar speakers that I often wondered how someone could be so informed and well-read as he was while getting through the same medical school courses and rotations as the rest of us.  During the annual Dr. Med School Pageant as M2s, I was planning a skit in which I portrayed a University of Michigan Medical School version of the classic SNL character Mary Katherine Gallagher.  I immediately thought of Sujal as the perfect addition to my act, as I knew he was a terrific public speaker and would have a great stage presence. Without skipping a beat or asking any details about my rather random request, he agreed to participate.  And although I was not to be crowned Dr. Med School, Suj was hilarious in his role and stole the show.  He threw himself entirely into everything he did, and this somewhat ridiculous five-minute skit was no exception.

Suj, you are–and will continue to be–greatly missed.  Even before your passing, you were a great inspiration to all those around you by virtue of your tireless dedication to health and human rights, both at home and abroad, and your unparalleled drive to make the world around you a better place.  And as hard as you worked, I always admired your ability to find balance in your life and be such a source of joy and love to those around you.  We are all better in every way for having known you.