This Saturday myself and three of my classmates participated in the Tour de Troit. It is a 30 mile bike ride around the city of Detroit. Roads are closed off and around 6,000 cyclists can take a leisurely ride around the city. I am not from Michigan and I have not spent a lot of time in Detroit. I have gone into the city for the occasional Tigers game and I ran in the relay event of the Detroit Marathon last year. Those weren’t really great ways of seeing the city. The Tour de Troit was unique because I could see a huge number of Detroit neighborhoods over the course of a few hours. We were all very impressed with how much the city varies. There were long stretches of abandoned factories, which are so frequently associated with Detroit. We also saw neighborhoods filled with row houses and families, as well as streets lined with large, ornate homes. The Tour de Troit also includes Bell Island, which I had never even heard of before. The island is incredibly green and the water around it was very blue that day, completely unlike urban bodies of water that I’ve seen back on the East Coast. The entire event felt very surreal. I am used to biking in streets that are filled with cars, and yesterday was a very cathartic experience after spending years being bullied by motorists. But perhaps the most relaxing part of the day was being outside with other medical students and not talking about physiology, drugs, or diseases.
I’m back in Ann Arbor for the start of M2 year. By now, the first year medical students have begun their classes and we have less than a week before we begin M2 Cardiology. I remember seeing the M2 schedule last year and thinking that I could never learn that much material. I was unsure of whether or not I’d even be able to handle the first year of medical school. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much more confidence I have one year later. The first year of medical was difficult. But there was an incredible amount of support from my instructors and peers. It is challenging for nontraditional students to start up academics again. I had worked for two years before starting at Michigan. Majoring in history, I was shocked that I even got into a school as prestigious as Michigan. Even though I got through every sequence, I don’t feel that I found my stride until spring. A large part of that was just learning how to study for medical school. But I never regretted my decision and I always had someone to talk to when I was stressed. Now, my biggest concern is whether or not United airlines will find my lost luggage, so that I can get my running shoes back and enjoy this beautiful weather. It is extremely encouraging to see how much I’ve changed over the past year. I’m excited to see how I will be feeling this time next year when I’m finally in my clinical training.
I am currently on hold with customer service for American Airlines, which almost didn’t give me a seat on my flight leaving Quito this week. Waiting on hold is usually one of the most frustrating experiences that a person can have, but it has given me some time to reflect on my time abroad this summer.
The past six weeks I have been living in Quito, Ecuador with five other medical students and a student from the school of public health. We were working on several different projects. I was assessing depression in a cancer hospital with one other medical student from Michigan and an Ecuadorian medical student. My mentor on this project told me that working with terminally ill patients is something that most students do not do until their third year of medical school and many students do not have time to talk with patients for long periods of time during their clinical training. She encouraged us to get to know patients undergoing cancer treatment while we had the opportunity to spend unrestricted amounts of time with them.
We went into the project hoping to make connections with patients, but we were met with much more openness and emotion than we had anticipated. A patient cried in front of me at least once a day. Patients told us about how cancer had changed their bodies and their families. But there were also patients who told me about how joyful they felt as they reflected on their lives. Often patients would tell me that they did not fear death, because they believed in God and heaven. I think the patients that surprised me the most were those who told me that they felt that cancer had changed them for the better. They told me stories about how they improved their relationships, their religious practice, and their outlook on life when they were diagnosed.
The research this summer went very well. We recruited a lot of patients and surpassed our goals. Nevertheless, I don’t feel that conducting research helped me grow as a medical student nearly as much as these conversations with patients. I’ve seen that every patient has a singular perception of his or her diagnosis. In the health care profession, patients are diagnosed and treated in a formulaic manner; but their reactions to their health are unique. I hope that I am able to take the conversations from this summer and reflect on them when I am in the hospital. Even when I have less time to communicate with patients, I would like to be able to hear about their individual perspectives on their health and treatment.
I am currently in Ecuador with the University of Michigan’s Quito Project. So far, the experience has been unbelievable. I arrived almost three weeks ago and I feel like my ability to navigate the city and my Spanish have improved markedly since then. There are six of us here now, but we’re working on two different projects. Myself and another M1 are assessing the rate of depression among patients at a cancer hospital here in Quito. We’re administering surveys in Spanish using iPads. The work is very challenging, but I feel like I am making wonderful connections with patients and I know that I am very lucky to get the opportunity to work with patients undergoing such a difficult time of their lives.
The other group here is studying chronic diseases in hospital subcenters in Quito. They have not begun their research yet, and have been spending a lot of time setting up their project. Nevertheless, we’re all having a wonderful time. Last weekend we hiked up a volcano outside Quito called Pichincha. We were around 13,000 feet and the air was so thin that it was extremely hard to walk uphill. We were unable to get to the top, because we did not have enough water; but it did feel like a major accomplishment to get as far as we did go. I have included some photos from our hike below.
I have to go workout at the gym now. I have found that the best way to reset myself for work is to have a good workout in the afternoon. I love the patients that I’m working with, but it is very emotionally difficult work and it is nice to do something completely different at the end of the day. We get to start work a bit later tomorrow, so tonight we’re going to the centro historico of Quito to watch some live music and get some drinks. I hope that everyone is having a wonderful summer and thank you for reading!
The first year of medical school is over. A lot of my friends have already left for home or to do research abroad. There are some events that have happened over the year that my very talented classmate, Mike Kemp has documented through his photography. He has given me permission to share them on this blog.
The first group is from Biorhythms, a dance performance that student choreographers and dancers put together in the spring. I was in the Hip Hop dance, which my friend LeeAnne (who is a very highly trained dancer) choreographed. It was very fast and difficult, but very fun and a little terrifying to perform.
The second group is from the Smoker, a play that is student written, directed and performed. It largely is a satire of the medical school and our professors.
I hope that you enjoy these photos. I will be leaving for Quito on Saturday. I’ll be posting a lot of photos from there.