Monthly Archives: February 2016


Pulse arcing against my fingers
words and silence cast aside
stars and shadows burst within me
I am here
I am alive

This is my reality
the endless spinning of my dreams
echoes, shadows, valleys, meadows
look around
and hear me sing

With this music in my mind
I have the wings to take me high
aloft, alone above the clouds
I soar among the stars and sky

– Stethoscopist | drafted 5.20.15

Looking back


It’ve been two years since I wrote the poem below.  I remember being in my immunology class during the second quarter of medical school, listening as our instructor talked about anaphylaxis.  The emotions it evoked later found their way into written words.  I’ve shared this poem a few times in different ways–first in my creative writing class, later in our medical student journal–but I haven’t revisited it in at least a year.

A lot has changed in the course of that time, even if I didn’t see it happening.  Perhaps I haven’t paused and looked back often enough, to see how far I’ve come since the beginning of my journey into medicine.  I’m almost done with my third year now, and sometimes I forget just how much I’ve learned since I began.  I think it is that way for many of us, actually.  We live with ourselves 24/7, and it makes it difficult to see ourselves grow because it happens so gradually.  But grow we do.

This poem looks back to a time when I was seven years old, and my brother (who was a toddler at the time) went into anaphylactic shock after tasting peanut butter.

He just turned 19 years old this January, and I turned 26.

To this day, I’m thankful for the medicine that saved him.


Dim lecture hall and early morning and I am sitting in the seat I always take, watching the words flashing against the wall. Pruritus. Urticaria. Angioedema. 

Immunoglobulins, the E isotype, not the A isotype…so many letters to keep straight. 

I am a child again, tracing out the alphabet, learning to spell like when you were born and I had to remember to write your name with an “a” two letters from the end, not an “e.” A child again learning my ABCs: airway, breathing, cardiac. Treatment includes epinephrine. 

And suddenly, we are children again. 

Flashes of images in my mind, a moment remembered, transected from the whole. 

The stroller with its small wheels, and you in it, and Mom bending over to give you a bite of our sandwich because you are hungry on that sunny walk in the park, and we are carefree. 

So ordinary, the child and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the young family paused in time on the sidewalk. 

And then the next image, more sound than sight: your sneeze, and the worry in Mom’s voice. 

And then you buckled in the car seat and Grandpa getting into the car beside you and Mom rushing because you have to go to the emergency room. An impression of puffiness, of you and your elfin ears and fine brown hair and a body suddenly too full of that which should have been life. 

An empty driveway, lonesome gray against the sky. 

Me waiting. 

You came back—you came back to us before your lungs could squeeze out the last thin tendrils of your breath and the surging current of medicine drew your tiny boat back from a shore we could not reach. 

And I am the medical student in the lecture hall caring about the mechanism of epinephrine, and I am the sister caring about nothing other than that you came back.

Just One Step

Attempting a new endeavor sometimes leaves me feeling like I’m standing in my hiking boots at the base of a slope, debating whether there are enough handholds to scramble up without falling and breaking my leg.  Or my neck.  Whether it’s writing papers, doing research, or starting a new phase of medical school, it’s often daunting to summon the internal energy needed to begin.

I’m beginning to realize, however, that my ability to gauge the energy required to take a particular action is not always so accurate.  I enjoy meeting goals, and I have some long-term ones in place as guiding stars for my life journey.  It’s like picking a distant mountain peak and saying, I am going to trek from here to there.  Doing so may keep me from getting completely off-course, but if I think that I need to have enough energy to make the 100-mile hike in a single shot, I’m not likely to ever get out the door.


In reality, I would only need to have enough energy to make it to my first campsite.  I wouldn’t presume to have enough stamina to make it to the end without pausing, and if I felt beaten at the thought of doing so I wouldn’t blame myself.  But I certainly do that with less tangible journeys.  If need to start something and feel overwhelmed at the thought of carrying it to completion, I can respond to myself in any number of ways and they usually aren’t positive.  It’s something I’m trying to become more aware of, and perhaps this post is, in its own way, a part of sorting this out.

Being more realistic certainly would help.  If I realize that I only need enough internal power to get started–to create the ignition spark–it will help keep me keep the big picture in mind without feeling daunted by its implications.  One strategy I’ve used is committing to a first step that is so small, it would be ridiculous not to do it.  Need to write an email I’ve been putting off because it feels like too much to do?  Just log into my computer and open my inbox, and that is all.  No expectations beyond than that–if I get into my inbox, I’ve accomplished my goal.

By beginning with something small like that, I’m able to overcome the inertia of starting because I narrow my focus to what I need for the step right in front of me.  I’m no longer trying to bully myself into walking for miles; I’m just lifting one foot off the ground. I’m surprised each time I do this by how well it works–usually I end up getting far more accomplished than I had planned.

So far, I’ve applied this strategy mostly for writing-related things like papers or emails.  We all face more in life than emails, however.  I have a few landmark peaks in the distance, and the highest one would be realizing my dream to become a physician-writer.  That’s what I’m aiming for: to be someone who cares for the body without forgetting that it contains the human spirit.  It will be a lifelong journey, one that will hopefully include matching into residency, graduating from medical school, finishing my post-graduate training and finding my place in the world as an attending physician.  Right now, I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to make it through clinics.  It feels overwhelming to think about right now, but I’m going to try taking the one–step approach to starting my rotations this April.

Review how to take a medical history.  One step.

Find one video to practice the eye movements in the neurological exam.  One step.

Watch the video.  One step.

Sign up to volunteer again at one of Stanford’s free clinics.  One step.

They’re little steps, and they don’t seem like much, but they’ll keep me from postponing everything until I feel ready.  Because, honestly, I’ll never feel completely ready.

And one day near the end of April, I’ll take a deep breath and remember to keep my head up.  And I’ll take one step that will carry my over the threshold into my clinical years.