Tuesday, October 20, 2015

She Was My Patient

She was my patient. A few months ago I was assigned to follow her case while on my General Surgery rotation. I was still only a mere 6 weeks into my transition from classroom med student bent over a book, to clinical rotation med student trying to figure out what the hell I was doing. As students, we are generally assigned only 1-2 patients at a time so that we can closely follow their hospital course. So she was my one patient.  

I saw her every morning and evening in the days leading up to her surgery. I scrubbed in on her surgery, which was completed successfully with no complications. I helped the nurses clean her up after surgery. I encouraged her to get up and out of bed even though it was hard because I knew it was good for her. She was my patient. 

But she was also a sad and lonely woman. So much so that when I was told to go home after a 14 hour day, I stayed and sat with her for a while, just to try to keep her company. We talked about her children, we (she) watched Fox News, and I chuckled as she explained to me that Donald Trump would make a great president (full disclosure: I asked her if she thought his hair was real).

Two days later, she was declared to be stable and ready to go to a rehab facility to gain more strength back before going home. I said goodbye to her, knowing that she probably only had a few more years at most left, but that she would at least get some more time with her family.

Three days later I came in to the hospital in the morning and learned that she had been brought to the Emergency Department in the middle of the night. She was currently unconscious in the ICU. By the end of the day, it became clear that despite all of the resources of the medical team, she probably wouldn't make it through the night.

I don't think we'll ever know what exactly caused her downward spiral. There may have been an accidental overdose of one of her medications, her body may have been too worn out to metabolize her medication, or she may have just plain started to shut down. No matter the problem, there was no way to fix it.

Despite the fact that nothing else could be done for her, she remained a "Full Code" as a result of some legal disputes within her family. This meant that we had to continue to pump her full of drugs, keep her on a ventilator, and when the time came, do CPR and any other required life-saving measures. 

She was my patient, and I felt completely powerless as I watched her body slowly shut down, and her suffering was prolonged. After three days, her body was in a condition that I hope to never see another person in again. When her blood pressure and pulse no longer became detectable, a code blue was called.

She was my patient; someone I tried to help heal, and so I made sure that I was there when the time finally came to end her care.

Despite being trained in cardiac life support, I had never been a part of an actual code before. I watched as the nurses and doctors set to work doing compressions, administering medicine, and searching for a pulse on a person who was already gone and couldn't come back. A pulse returned twice during the course of the code and both times everyone in the room let out a sigh, as if to say: "Why can't this poor woman just go in peace?"

As a medical student, the only thing I could do to help were chest compressions. When the time came, I stepped up on a stool, legs shaking, and put all of my energy into pressing on her chest. The nurses kindly told me I wasn't pressing hard enough, so I tried harder. 

I was disgusted with myself. I was making this poor woman, someone I knew, someone who just a week ago told me that "of course Trump's hair is real", suffer even more, solely for legal reasons.

I felt like I was doing harm.

When her death was finally pronounced, everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief. The nurses asked me if I was okay, that I looked so sad. "She was my patient."

I have had a lot of difficulty processing that day. I've been told that everyone remembers their first code, that everyone remembers the first time they lose a patient, that we all go through it, it's just how things go, and that I knew this was going to happen when I went to medical school. All of this is true, but it doesn't necessarily make it any easier. I didn't think my first code would be my first patient death, and I didn't think it would be for someone who had zero hope of surviving. I wanted to go in to medicine to help people. I made a pledge to Do No Harm, and I felt as if I had gone against that.

Since that time, I have partaken in two other codes, both within the past few days. One had a good outcome, the other did not. But in both cases, we were fighting as hard as we could to get a heartbeat back because we could get it back. Because these people were still there, people with families and friends and lives to keep living.

And so when the time came for me to do chest compressions, they went from seeming barbaric and cruel, to the most humane and human thing someone can do. I was putting every ounce of energy, everything I had, into keeping their hearts beating for them. 

Even though I did not know either of these patients prior to the code, it is still never an easy thing to see another human being in that condition. It will never be easy to watch someone's life come to an end. 

I have often worried how I will keep a healthy balance of emotions as I go on in my medical career. How do I keep my empathy and compassion without letting them consume and cloud my medical ability and my life outside of medicine? How do I not get weighed down by the unhappy outcomes without becoming numb to them?

I got the chance to ask my attending this question after one of our recent codes. He explained to me that unfortunately many people tend to take life for granted until it is too late. People may have regrets about the way they lived: goals left unachieved, dreams remaining just dreams, truths never told. He said that as physicians and caretakers we have the extreme privilege of witnessing moments of mortality on a daily basis. We see lives ended too soon and unexpectedly. We know to not take life for granted. 

She was my patient. I will have many many other patients. I will lose many other patients. As a physician, I will see moments of pure despair and pure hope. But I know now that I can take all of the sadness I see and rather than let it weigh me down, let it be my reminder to keep going: to keep enjoying life, working hard, and not take anything for granted.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Music for the Summer


I have come out on the other side of step 1 of my board exams.. also known as medical student hell, and started actual rotations. Um, whoa. I'm still in the midst of processing boards, moving out of Philadelphia for the next year and starting working in the hospital (in Psych!), but hopefully I will share some random, funny stories and maybe even a little insight in the next few months.

In the meantime, it's summer, and I figure everyone can always use some new summer jams so I wanted to share my favorite recent discoveries that have been clogging up my spotify playlists, focusing mainly on some kick-ass women (does anyone else find it easier to curse in writing than speaking?).

I'll start off  with the album that I would pick if I could only listen to one for the whole summer:

"California Nights" - Best Coast

Best Coast has made a few albums reminiscent of surfer 1960's meets girl rock, but their new album, California Nights, also has a 90's alternative feel.

The songs progress how I imagine a day in the California sun would; from the steady, upbeat, let's-get-this-day-started "Feeling Ok", through the mellow, sunset-vibes of "California Nights", all the way to the restless end of the night with "Sleep Won't Ever Come".

"My Love is Cool" - Wolf Alice

If you are more of a London grunge-rock kind of person, then look no further than Wolf Alice. This is a band that has been getting a lot of love lately, I'm just sad I didn't jump on the bandwagon sooner!

Perfect blend of rock, alternative, edge, and cheekiness.

"Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit" - Courtney Barnett

Speaking of cheek, Australian rocker Courtney Barnett has tons. I can't help giggling as I listen to her fun and intelligent lyrics.

 (Apologies for the clown)

"If I Was" - The Staves

I first came across this trio of sisters a few years ago with their debut EP, "Mexico", but then they kind of fell off my radar unfortunately.  But they once again have my full attention with this new album, produced by Justin Vernon. The harmonies and melodies are stripped down and insanely gorgeous.

Live Cover of "I'm on Fire" - not on the album but had to share

After a long day of playing out in the sun, listen to this under the stars, next to a fire, maybe with some s'mores. Definitely with s'mores.

I know I said I was all about this ladies this post but I would feel incredibly selfish if I didn't share these other two new favorites...

"Coming Home" - Leon Bridges

You may listen to this album and think it was recorded in the 50's or 60's with the likes of Sam Cooke but I assure you it was only released a month ago.

Leon Bridges nails the 60's soul, blues vibe while still keeping his own modern twist. This album makes me so happy.

Moon Taxi

This  Brooklyn-based indie alternative band was a lucky discovery when I was at Governor's Ball last month (speaking of, Florence + The Machine: holy cow that woman is not human). None of us had heard of them before but we happened to catch them while waiting for the next set that we were planning on seeing- instantly hooked!

Their 2013 album "Mountains Beaches Cities" is addicting so I'm really looking forward to their upcoming release!

Okay, back to reading about personality disorders! Feel free to let me know what music you've been loving this summer!

Also this:

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New New Music, Yay!

It's been so long since I wrote a music post. Too long. But that is about to change because lately I have been so excited by some new bands that I have come across and really really really want to share.

First, let me preface this post by saying that I've noticed a subtle shift in some of my music choices as of late. I am still a full on folk, blues, rock, alternative, indie-folk, etc. kinda girl but the past few months I've been listening to a lot more indie-electronic-ish type music. A girl has to stay awake while studying the brain, ya feel me?


Well, check out some of these bands and maybe you'll understand.

First up: Misterwives

I first heard the single, Reflections, about a year ago, and ever since the EP has been on heavy rotation for me. So infectiously fun and awesome. I may or may not have danced down the sidewalk while listening and walking home from school (shhhhh!). Next week, their first full-length LP will be released, and I can't wait!

Listen. Listen now I say.

 And, then, you know, just because, Valentine's Day:

Catfish & The Bottlemen

Going back to some good ol' British rock music. Or I guess, technically Welsh rock music? Doesn't sound as cool I think. But these guys are so darn cool. They are starting to gain quite a following and are playing a sold out show in Philly this week (damn you med school). Their debut album has also been on constant rotation for me. In particularly, the song below helped me survive studying for my latest Neuro exam, so I thought the music video was pretty ironic when I came across it...


Speaking of music that has been helping me survive studying lately: Pvris. Sometimes, you just need some angry girl rock music. Pvris is certainly a fresh new take on that: equal parts rock, electronic, pop, and bad-ass.

The Districts

Some more repeat-worthy rock music (with a bit of a folk-y touch if you listen close). But this time a little bit more local. Lititiz, PA? Anyone? Bueller?
Anyway, their first full-length LP dropped this week and I was beyond thrilled. I will definitely be catching these guys at the Governor's Ball in a few months.

Oh, yeah, I'm going to the Governor's Ball. To celebrate being done with board exams. Boom.

St. Paul and The Broken Bones

Moving from rock to some good old (new) blues and soul music. These guys will take you back to a different time. A time you won't want to leave as long as the music is this soulful.

Caught a Ghost

I first came across these guys because of their cover songs (Sam Cooke, Madonna, AND Rilo Kiley?! Coolest covers ever), but when I listened to their original songs, I was even more hooked. Think Fitz & the Tantrums but, dare I say, better? More soulful goodness. But with an extra spin.


More electro-pop-ness. This duo will have you bouncing up and down in your chair. Not that I've done that. No sir.


Violents is a series of EPs featuring different female vocalists (Annie Williams, Olga of Kye Kye, and Stacy DuPree of Eisley) and music and lyrics by Jeremy Larsen of Sucre. These lyrics are some of the most beautiful I've heard in recent memory and these ladies have gorgeous voices that take them to a whole other level.


Here is another electro-pop duo but these guys are brother and sister and make music that is moody and a little dark but soothing all at the same time. If you are a fan of Banks (which if you are not, there is something wrong with you), you will probably like these songs as well.


Over the past few months I've been looking forward to each new song from this indie rock group, slowly leading up to their first LP release, which is next week! Each song is a little different, but together they work so well and just make me plain happy.

Last, but certainly not least: The New Basement Tapes

I'm just going to quote Wikipedia on this one:

"Produced by T Bone Burnett, The New Basement Tapes is a collective of musicians—Elvis CostelloRhiannon Giddens,Taylor GoldsmithJim James and Marcus Mumford. Lost on the River consists of a series of tracks based on recently uncovered lyrics handwritten by Bob Dylan in 1967"

It doesn't get much better than that.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Going Pink, or, Why I Decided to No Longer Give a Damn

I went pink.

I think it's safe to say I shocked some people with this decision, including myself.

Anytime I have seen other girls with "pink ombre" hair or a similar colored hair style, I always thought it was pretty, but even more so, I found it playful, whimsical, and light-hearted...happy even. And if you know me pretty well, hopefully you can agree that my personality may also fit that description, or at least I try to remember to keep as light-hearted a perspective as a 20-something girl in medical school can have (spoiler: it's kind of difficult at times).

But I was always too nervous to stray from my normal blonde hair for fear of being viewed as unprofessional, wild, or rebellious, because that seems to be the general stereotype for any color of hair that isn't brunette, blonde, black, or red... and I don't mean cherry red. And as someone who wanted to get into medical school, be taken seriously, and viewed as being responsible, then having pink hair was out of the question.

This blog post is actually not about stereotypes or breaking stereotypes, etc. That is a much more complicated topic for a different time. Especially in the medical world. In fact, I have to admit that part of my decision was made on the basis that come July when I start hospital rotations, pink hair will be viewed as a big no-no.

This post is actually about being true to yourself, other people's opinions be damned.

After spending way too much time and effort worrying about what other people thought about how I acted, how I looked, and what I said, I decided to just not care so much any more and do what makes me happy. So I dyed (part of) my hair pink.

It may not fit with the quiet, non-cursing (other than my use of the word "damn" above), med student that many people see, but it's just another way for me to show my inner self on the outside. It may be a self that not everyone knows and even one that I'm still learning about, but it's still just me, and I make no apologies or excuses for that.

So the next time you second guess doing something that will make you happy because you are afraid of what other people may think: don't. Be a little bold and dye your hair pink.