doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Month: April, 2017

‘No one gets a diploma alone’

Almost every day, I pass by this bus stop billboard, which is across the street from Weill Cornell Medical College.

The message — “no one gets a diploma alone” — is so true. It’s true whether you’re talking about a GED, B.S., or M.D. So every time I see this advertisement, I think of all of you.

And when I say “you,” I’m talking about a lot of people.

My family and close friends play enormously supportive roles. I wouldn’t be here without them. I can’t thank them enough. My classmates, too, play a key part.

But “you” is even broader than my family, friends, and classmates. One of the most difficult things about medical school is the pervasive feeling of isolation. So knowing that there are people across the globe reading my story — many of whom I’ve never met, and am unlikely to ever meet — that helps too.

To each one of you, for your unique contribution: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


Central Park self-portraits

When I was in college, one of my favorite (and most time-intensive) classes was photography. This was before the ubiquity of digital cameras — we shot with 35 mm, 400 ISO film, all black and white, manually developed and printed in buckets of smelly liquids under red safety lights. My final project was to tell a “story” in a series of still photographs. I decided to share my daily jogging route. I started and ended with a picture of my running shoes to give context. In between were images of the route itself, the trees, bushes, houses, fences, and streets. I took each photo while slowly panning a scene, blurring the images slightly to give the impression of movement. For my presentation, I mounted each image on rectangles of black art board, with little cutouts along the top and bottom to look like segments of a film strip.

I don’t jog anymore; I prefer an exercise bike, an elliptical machine, or simply a long walk. The photos I present here (digital, obviously — how times have changed!) tell the story of my recent walk to, through, and from Central Park. I am eternally grateful to those who had the foresight to guard this giant swath of land as a nature preserve, and I visit it often. The park changes throughout the seasons. Here is what it looks like on a sunny, spring day.

The park has many boulders suitable for scrambling or simply sitting.


In April, there are patches of daffodils all over the park.


Blooming magnolias remind me of my childhood home in Forest Park, Illinois.


Central Park even has a castle — this is me against its wall.


From above, there’s a lovely view of one of the park’s ponds, a giant lawn, and the city skyline in the background.


The park paths meander, with many overpasses and underpasses. Here is one of them.


Commemorative statues dot the park, including this one of Balto, the sled dog famous for helping transport diphtheria treatment to combat an epidemic in Nome, Alaska in 1925.


My walk home was lovely too. This is me in front of the tulip-laden Park Avenue median.

Primary care doctors: masters of flexibility

One week into my primary care clerkship, and I have developed an incredible new respect and appreciation for this group of doctors.

First, a little about the clerkship itself. At many schools, this would be a family medicine clerkship. (Family physicians being doctors who treat the whole family, from babies to kids to teens to adults, including pregnant women.) But Cornell does not have a family medicine department, so for this clerkship we spend time at various ambulatory care sites. Being at five different clinical locations throughout the week was disorienting at first, but I do think it will give me a good sense of various ambulatory settings. I’m in Brooklyn with an internist on Monday, and on the Upper East Side the rest of the week for dermatology, ob/gyn clinic, more internal medicine, and the emergency department.

So what’s so incredible about primary care doctors? Plenty, but what I want to focus on right now is how adaptable they are. In primary care, when a patient comes in for an appointment, you might know what her ongoing medical problems are — diabetes, hypertension, etc. — but you don’t know why she’s here today. You need to be prepared for anything, quite literally. You manage acute and chronic complaints in all systems: heart, lungs, stomach, liver, brain, muscles, bones, and so on. And when you do a physical exam, you don’t just listen to her heart, lungs, and belly. If indicated, you might do a focused musculoskeletal exam for back pain, or a neurologic exam if she has trouble with balance.

I’ve seen this flexibility as a patient, of course, when visiting my own primary care doctor. It seems so natural. But it’s different being on the other side of that doctor-patient relationship. There’s so much information to filter through during the patient interview, so many potential physical exam maneuvers, so many diagnostic possibilities to consider. In some ways, this is intimidating for me as a medical student. It’s all so new, and I have so much yet to learn. But it’s also incredibly rewarding to help solve these clinical puzzles — and to help these patients.

A refreshing spring break

Last week was my much-welcomed spring break. I spent a few days of it in Chicago visiting my much-missed family. As usual, we talked, laughed, played games, watched movies, ate wonderful food, and drank beer and sparkling wine (not simultaneously, of course).

I also made a trek back to the Garfield Park Conservatory. I’ve been visiting this gigantic, tropical greenhouse since before I can remember, and posted about my time there at Christmas. One reason I love Garfield Park is that every time I go, I discover something new. Sometimes, it’s at a seasonal flower show. Other times, I come across something that’s always been there and I simply see it in a new way. Both happened during this most recent visit.

When I went last Friday, the spring flower show was underway. I’ve never seen such vibrant azaleas or Persian buttercups.

Brilliant azaleas at the Garfield Park Conservatory’s spring flower show.

In the fern room, a childhood favorite for games of hide-and-seek, I noticed unusual patterns of fern spores. Usually, fern spores aggregate in little round, brown balls that line the underside of the leaves. But I discovered that they arrange themselves in other beautiful ways — in straight lines and in zig-zags, for example.

Schismatoglottis — parasite or plant?

Part of how you see things depends on your perspective. And I was looking at the plants as a medical student. So when I saw a plant called Schismatoglottis (pictured at left), I immediately thought the placard read “Schistosomiasis” — a nasty parasitic worm you contract by exposure to infected water.

And looking at the miniature silver nerve plant, I had flashbacks to our brain and behavior unit last fall. The veins in the leaves do bear resemblance to axons and dendrites.

Miniature silver nerve plant

I found unexpected humor at the conservatory too. In the same room where my sisters and I had run amok as kids, I saw this gardener’s bin. I’m glad to see childhood playfulness is still welcomed — even encouraged.

And now, after such a refreshing spring break, it’s time to get ready for my next clerkship: primary care.