Monthly Archives: October 2014

Halloween 2014

I biked to class today in a green and gold gown, trying to keep its flowing sleeves tucked into my backpack straps so they wouldn’t fly out like streamers on either side. I hadn’t dressed up for Halloween since I was a young child, and although I felt a thrill of excitement at doing so once again, I didn’t want to draw much more attention to myself than I already did pedaling down the rain-washed paths in medieval costume.

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I had spent the evening before scrambling to hem my dress that it wouldn’t bunch up around my feet like an accordion; as I’m on the shorter side, I wasn’t surprised when my costume arrived with the skirt nine inches too long. After a last-minute trip to the fabric store to buy needles, and thread, I set to work, thankful that my mom had taught me how to hem by hand when I was younger (as my jeans and slacks never seemed to be the right length either, I had a decent amount of hemming practice growing up).

Our lecture on thyroid cancer was made memorable by a bunch of bananas sitting in front of me…

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…and I had fun seeing the various costumed characters scattered throughout the medical school. None of us dressed up as doctors, though; it’s as if there’s an unspoken agreement among medical students that wearing a white coat no longer counts as a Halloween costume.

Truth be told, the white coat still feels like a costume at times.

Some costumes you grow out of…others you grow into.

After snatching an hour of studying post-class, several of us went to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) to help give candy to the parade of children trick-or-treating in its halls. Every Halloween, the children’s hospital transforms into a kaleidoscope of candy-filled tables, brightly costumed children, and creatively dressed staff.

When I reached the children’s hospital, it was like stepping into the pages of a book. I glimpsed Glinda the Good Witch’s billowing pink skirts as we headed towards the stairs and caught sight of bone-printed socks peeking out from someone’s blue scrubs. Children swarmed the halls, dressed as ninjas and fairies, pirates and skeletons, superheroes, princesses, and animals. Not surprisingly, there were many girls in blue gowns with white braids, snowflakes and sparkles.

Some of my favorite moments were seeing the little babies—the ones only a few months old—cradled in their parents’ arms. These moments were both bitter and sweet, but the sweetness of seeing the little ones in their tiny costumes and sensing their parents’ love for them outweighed the pang. For this moment, at least, these kids could be kids.

As things began to wind down, my friends decided to make a last-minute stop at the Haunted House on the first floor. I tagged along and brought up the rear as we slipped through a door into a black-lined room swirling with eerie lights and little ghosts swooping around the ceiling. I have no idea what purpose this room actually serves in everyday life, but at this moment it was a dark cavern echoing with ghostly sounds. A ghoul slipped from the wrinkled walls behind me, and I squeezed closer to my classmates. LPCH had done well.

Looking back, I think what struck me most about today was seeing how much life filled the children’s hospital this afternoon. To me, it really was like stepping through a doorway into a magical realm. All the effort the staff and volunteers put into making this day as exciting and normal as possible for the children touched me.

It also reminded me how many people are living extraordinary lives. To the parents of the children here, to the children whose lives are anything but ordinary, I am in awe of you.

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Happy Halloween!

Healer’s Art

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I wanted to share a picture I drew this week.  It’s based off of a drawing I did as part of my first class in Healer’s Art, an elective founded by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen at UCSF and now taught at medical schools across the country.

As some background, the purpose of this course is to help medical students clarify and cultivate their calling as physicians and recapture the heart of medicine.  It’s described in our course catalog as follows:

“For pre-clinical and clinical medical students.  Explores core dimensions of meaning, service and healing exemplified by the outstanding physician. Goals are to develop and preserve personal values such as service, harmlessness, compassion, altruism, self care, integrity, equality, justice, respect, and nurturing wholeness; to develop the compassionate listening skill that is foundational for clinical practice and for finding personal meaning and satisfaction; and to clarify a commitment to medicine as one’s life’s work.”

Healer’s Art is taught each fall at Stanford and this quarter came at a perfect time for me, as I am facing some questions of purpose and direction as I move forward into second year.  I know who I want to be, and I at least have an idea of where I want to go within medicine, but the questions are still there.  I suspect nearly everyone faces them and that they never truly disappear.  I’m okay with that, though, because the questions keep me on my toes and push me to explore more deeply why I do what I do.

In our first class, we were each given a little bag of crayons–tangy, waxy, new.  The assignment was simple yet complex: think of something which you value about yourself and don’t want to lose during your journey in medicine, and draw a picture or symbol to represent it.

And so, with my classmates, I drew.  Some of us knelt on the floor while others sat by tables, each of us working to pictorially capture flames too important to extinguish.  I felt like a kid again as I bent over my big sheet of paper with my handful of fresh crayons.  It had been years since I really used crayons.

After several quiet minutes of sketching, we broke into our small groups and scattered throughout the building to settle down and discuss the heart of our work.  Words like “trust” and “resilience” and “love” emerged, along with stories of past journeys, current experiences, and future hopes.

My own picture sprang from a part of me that has faded somewhat over the course of my collage and now medical school years.  As a child, I loved to create stories and imagine fantastic odysseys, and one of my favorite pastimes was writing fiction. I loved to imagine things that could only live in the mind, like horses made of wind that, if touched, felt like streams of cool air blown from a fan.  In the past years, however, my mind hasn’t had as much time to wander such unknown paths.  Rather, it’s travelled the paths of biochemical mechanisms and lines of reasoning, and my writing has been reincarnated as reflective blogging and poetry.  And, while I love these paths, part of me misses the imaginative adventures of childhood.

As I reflected in the quiet moment prior to starting this drawing, a picture came to mind of me as a physician sitting beside a patient’s bed–a child’s bed–telling stories to help chase away the foreign loneliness of the hospital room.  To provide a portal to another world, a wall-less world of color and fantastic creatures.  To heal with imagination.

I shared some of this with my small group, and they shared in turn that the theme running through this picture seemed to be one of hope.  As I thought about it some more, I realized that in a way, it was.

Imagine hope.

For me, imagining hope means being able to see without my eyes–to look beyond time and space and see who the person before me really is.  The child that they were, the journeys that brought them here, the heartbeat beneath the gown.

Maybe I don’t have much time for imagining winged horses anymore, but just perhaps I can imagine the wings of the human soul.