Category Archives: Perspective

Intention: Humanity

I’ve heard that at the beginning of a yoga session, people may set an intention to guide that period of time and help it translate into life as a whole.  While I haven’t formally done yoga before, I really like the idea of setting intentions.

In past years, I’ve picked a word or phrase to help guide the year in lieu of writing out a list of January resolutions (which I never seem to look at again anyways).  This year, I set an intention to be curious about life and each new experience it brings.  I was in the tentative first few weeks of a new relationship as 2016 rolled in, and my goal of embracing curiosity helped me to keep my heart open to the day-by-day unfolding of what has now become a beautiful part of my life.


I’m finding that sometimes life can knock the wind out of you, and other times it can give you wings to fly.  The relationship that started with curiosity has been an incredibly wonderful instance of the latter.

Time has been moving quickly, and now I’m exactly 30 days away from starting my first clinical rotation.  The idea of setting an intention is coming up again, this time because I’ve spent a portion of the past two days thinking about what it means to be a compassionate medical caregiver.  I’ve also been spending a good deal of time pondering how on earth I’m going to manage being a clinical student.  I’m 26 now, and I can see that I’ve grown a lot (especially in the past year), but I’m still trying to figure out who I am.  So perhaps part of this is a cry from my soul to reaffirm who I am, to reconnect with the reasons I am in medicine.


I’ve decided I want to set an official intention for my clinical years.  I already have one (hopefully) realistic goal for clinics: walk into my rotation on Day 1 with my head up, get along well with my team, learn from the mistakes I make, connect with the patients I’m assigned to follow, and walk out the door at the end of the day with my head still up.

As the lyrics go, chin up buttercup.

I also want to have a broader intention for my full 16 months of clerkships.  I think I’m starting to sort that out as I try to chart the courses of the rivers draining into the cognitive and emotional depths of who I am.  What are the reasons at the core of why I want to be a physician?  Why am I doing this?  What is going to get me out of bed every day for the next several decades?

It reminds me of when I was in the throes of applying to medical school several years ago, asking the same question–why medicine?–as I agonized over my AMCAS application form and the ensuing secondary essay questions. I actually went back to some of those essays today, blowing dust from the computer files.  It was like opening a time capsule and reliving the tense anticipation of applying to medical school: waiting for a secondary application invitation…waiting for an interview…waiting on pins-and-needles for an acceptance.


Are my reasons still the same as they were when I was a 22-year old student fresh out of undergrad?  I believe they are, at their core, although they’ve evolved and grown with the passage of time.

Sitting down with my journal, I parsed out four reasons why I am in medicine:

  1. When I’m able to bring a moment of compassionate connection into a hospital room or patient interaction, I feel like my soul has been nourished (and hope the feeling is mutual with the person I’ve connected with).
  2. I enjoy being able to share information; it’s gratifying and gives me the sense that I’m contributing something to other’s lives.
  3. Medicine is full of stories if I stop to pay attention and listen to them.  I want to learn people’s stories and give them the space to share them, if they want to.  This ties in to reason #1.
  4. Learning engages my mind and makes me feel incredibly happy and alive.  The medical field is one of lifelong learning.  This leads to reason #2.

Ultimately, I found that everything can be reduced to the following: (1) I find compassionate connection with other humans to be deeply satisfying and meaningful and (2) I enjoy the personal growth and sense of contribution to society that comes from learning new information, thinking critically, and teaching others.

So these are the bare-bones reasons of why I am in medicine.  Medicine is an environment where compassion and information-sharing can be practiced on a daily basis, and it positions me at a time point in peoples’ lives where this is especially needed.  I personally found, when undergoing a minor (but painful) medical procedure recently, the only two things I cared about were whether I trusted my provider (i.e. whether I felt he cared about and respected me as a person) and whether he was competent (i.e. could do everything efficiency and effectively).  I know everyone has unique priorities when interacting with the medical team, but I feel that trust and competency would likely show up as common themes.  And those are words I’d like to be able to be applied to me.

I actually feel a bit vulnerable sharing all this on my blog, because it gets down to why I’m doing what I’m doing.  And of course, there’s always the question, is it enough?  Are my reasons good enough?  And am I?  I have to believe that I am, and that I can do this.  I may not become the absolute best at what I do, but I will try my absolute best.

So my intention for the next year and a half?  To be compassionate, to pay attention to people’s stories, to accept that I’ll make mistakes, and to do what I can to learn from them.

In a word?




I’ve been thinking about wrinkles, and it’s making me kind of happy. I know that sounds funny, but I’ve decided that I want to live and love so much that when I am older, I will see crinkles like starbursts around my eyes and find laugh lines jump-roping across my cheeks. I want them so that when I look in the mirror someday, I will see all the memories and all the people I have loved etched indelibly in my skin.

I want to see them in the corners of my eyes and around my mouth and along my nose because I want to know, at the end of everything, that I lived life as fully as I could and loved as much my heart could hold.  And maybe then some.

I don’t want to see my face when I look in the mirror.

I want to see a lot more than that.

All right, right now


I love the idea of time and space being a fabric with folds and multiple dimensions.  It intrigues me like a song sung in a language I cannot understand: mysterious and perplexing, even, but also deeply beautiful.  If time and space are woven together, I wonder, what if I were able to loop back in time like a backstitch formed by needle and thread?

What if I were actually a time traveller?

My mom told me about a thought experiment she tried recently, where she imagined that she was a few decades older and had been granted a wish to go back in time to the present day.  What would it be like, she wondered, to live this moment–this afternoon in January 2016–with the perspective of her older self?  The poignancy of her description struck a chord deep inside me, and it came to mind again today while I was driving through Palo Alto beneath a brooding sky.

I realize that I spent a lot of time last year wishing for the future.  It’s because my vision of my future self often feels more comfortable than the skin I’m currently in…the future me is confident and experienced, someone who has navigated her clinical rotations, finished residency interviews, graduated from medical school, and survived her intern year.  She is taller (which is completely unrealistic, since the growth plates in my bones fused long ago), wiser, and stronger.  At least, that is what I hope.

While it is important to have goals and a vision for the future, I’m beginning to understand at a deeper level that they should not obliterate my ability to experience and enjoy the present moment.  It does me little good to dream if doing so makes me sleep away the life I have right now.  I want to wake up.  Even if my present life feels overwhelming and intimidating at times, I want to stay open to however it unfolds.  This is something I’ve been focusing on more recently, and I’m gradually seeing that many of the things I’m afraid of are shadows cast by my own mind.

The mind is powerful, capable of either intimidating or inspiring me with a simple flip of perspective.  So as I was driving today, I wondered what would happen if I were actually 70 years old and no longer able to practice medicine because my body couldn’t keep up with my soul any longer.  Perhaps I’d have silver hair cropped close to my head and tendrils of blue veins winding beneath rice-paper skin.  Maybe I’d be sitting in a chair by a window with dust motes catching the light.  Or maybe I’d not even have lived that long.  But if I did live to that age and were granted a wish to return to this week in January, what would I think?  What would I do?

I don’t think I’d be wishing for the days to pass quickly.  I don’t think I’d be as afraid of failing, either, because I’d know that my mistakes had helped me learn and grow into the person I had become.  I would probably be wildly, vividly grateful to be here, in this very moment, a Stanford med student and a daughter and sister and friend.  To be nearly 26 years old and very much alive.

It’s hard to keep this perspective; honestly, it’s easier for me to worry and wish for an imaginary future where things are easier.  But I know that sort of a future is simply a mirage, and that life is always going to be challenging.  It is for everyone.  And I’m starting to be much more okay with that.  I am part of humanity in all its joy and agony, and I may not love everything about that but I do love being human.

This year, I’m going to try to stop more frequently and realize that I am all right, right here, right now. 🙂



One Test to rule them all, One Test to define them; One Test to bring them all and into knowledge bind them

Like Bilbo and Frodo did in their times, I am about to embark on an adventure beyond the borders of all I have known.  (Did I actually just compare medical school to the Shire?)  This morning (since this post has taken me past midnight to write), I’ll begin my two-month journey of studying for the USMLE Step 1–an eight-hour long exam which will test all the medical knowledge I’ve learned in the past two years of medical school.  To speak with a bit of poetic license, it is the exam which will determine my destiny.  It is the One Test to rule all tests, the score to end all scores, for the grade I receive on it will influence how desirable of an applicant I am when applying for residency in a few years.


Thankfully, my future is (in reality) influenced by more than just the score I receive on this test.  Nevertheless, the Step 1 is a very important exam, and I’ll be devoting about 10 solid hours a day to studying for it.  Factor in time for meals, exercise, and the ebb and flow of natural life, and I’ll be starting my days around 6 AM and ending around 9 PM.  As intense as this will be, I’m excited about this block of time to study and really see how everything fits together.  I hope that I will be like a hawk soaring high above the landscape, taking in a panoramic view of everything that is going on so I can hone in on details and dive for deeper understanding.

I like to think of funny things like that.  It makes life more interesting to me. 🙂

Levity aside, it’s going to be an intense two months.  For me, a bright spot is that I’ll be studying with a very close friend, and we’ll be sharing the journey together.  As the old proverb says, “a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved; a joy shared is a joy doubled.”  I’m looking forward to teaming up with my friend to make deeper connections with the material as we grow into the doctors we dream of becoming.

That dream, however, is something I’ve been thinking about recently.

Very recently, for a few bleak weeks, I lost sight of who I wanted to be in medicine.  After nearly two years of studying and training, I felt that my path had led me into a seeping bank of fog.  I couldn’t see my way forward into the life-giving occupation I had imagined when I applied to medical school, and I began to feel increasingly lost.

For several agonizing days, I felt that I had lost my purpose.  After pushing myself in my studies for months while simultaneously struggling with the fact that life goes on even when you don’t feel like you have the reserves to deal with it, I was beginning to burn out.  It’s something that happens, and it’s a real thing.  I don’t think I burned out all the way, but reflecting on the past months, I see that I was beginning to.  I’m okay with admitting that because I know it happens to others too, and I hope that we can begin to dialogue about it more since doing so will help us, our colleagues and our future patients.  It will validate our own human experience.

It’s okay to be worn out sometimes.


What helped me re-engage with my purpose was a recent encounter where I didn’t feel listened to.  It was a situation when I wanted the comfort of being heard, and I instead felt more like an avatar for my electronic medical record.  The interaction was relatively brief, but served as the wind to blow away the fog I had been muddling through.  I realized at a visceral level that, as a medical professional, I want to help my patients feel heard.  Even if they don’t always want to open up to me, I want each person to know they have had the opportunity to talk and be heard.

Yesterday, I watched a fantastic TED Talk by Dave Isay called “Everyone around you has a story the world needs to hear.”  Dave Isay is the founder of StoryCorps, which started as a recording booth at the Grand Central Terminal in New York to allow anyone to record an interview with another person.  In his talk, he discussed how empowering and validating it can be for people to tell their stories.

Of recording interviews as a radio broadcaster, he said “Over the next 15 years, I made many more radio documentaries, working to shine a light on people who are rarely heard from in the media. Over and over again, I’d see how this simple act of being interviewed could mean so much to people, particularly those who had been told that their stories didn’t matter. I could literally see people’s back straighten as they started to speak into the microphone.” (TED)

This was the other light that helped me begin reconnecting with my meaning in medicine.  I want something more than the technical skills and knowledge can give me; I want to be a healer through stories.  I want to be an artist who creates a space for people to speak themselves into existence.  Going back to the creation account in Genesis, words are what brought substance out of the void.  I think this is what can happen in our lives today when we pay attention to what people have to say–when we pay attention to their experience and their feelings and thoughts and what it means for them to be a human and a patient.




I’m finding my way again, one step at a time.  So as I study the names of medications like ticlopidine and ticagrelor or diseases like loa loa and acute sclerosing glomerulonephritis, I’m also paving the way for stories to be told.

Since I love words and neologisms, here’s a word I’ve crafted to describe what I want to be:

Halewright (noun)

From Old English hǣlu-whyrta, corresponding to hale (health) + wright (builder, creator)

Someone who aids in bringing healing and wholeness to other humans through the act of listening to their stories.

And so the journey continues…


Holes in the Universe

This morning, I was thinking about what my purpose in life is.  Even as a medical student, it’s possible to have some days where you wake up and wonder what the point of your existence is.  Those kinds of days do happen, although they don’t always make sense.  We don’t often talk about them.  Perhaps part of it is that we shy away from the seemingly illogical nature of such feelings; after all, we are med students in training to save lives.  Our destiny is to help heal, comfort, and make a difference in the world–if that isn’t enough to give one a sense of purpose, what is?

I was brushing my teeth as I thought this over.

Rather than try to logic my way through to a resolution, I began to think about how I’d feel without the people who are most important to me–how empty my soul would be without them in my life.  Each person who means something to me would leave a void in their absence, which means that they are actively filling that void by their mere existence.

That’s when I realized, at some deep level, our purpose is to stop up the holes in the universe.  We aren’t always conscious of these holes in the fabric of human existence, but we know they’re there when we’re missing someone.  We feel them in the middle of the night when we remember a lost love or in the airport when we say goodbye.  We glimpse them as we drive past crosses standing sentinel beside a freeway, or in hospital waiting rooms, or in poetry drawn from the depths of the soul.

So I just wanted to share this.  If you ever wonder what your purpose is, remember that you help to hold the universe together.  You are the only one who can close the gap.  Each of us has a hole to fill, and each of our lives have been uniquely cut and shaped by our experiences to fill the void in another’s soul.

Just think of something that is meaningful to you and imagine how you’d feel without it.  Maybe it’s hard to imagine a person–perhaps it is a pet or a beautiful wild place where the pines grow tall or something that makes you smile even on days when your smile feels worn out.  Perhaps it’s a favorite song.  Whatever it is, try imagining the void without it.  Then feel for a moment how its presence fills that void.

Whether you realize it or not, your presence also fills an empty place.  This doesn’t have to do with your job or what you do for others or how beautiful or strong you are.  It doesn’t have anything to do with your intelligence, grades, title, or degree.  It has to do with who you are–your favorite color and the way your hand feels when someone holds it and the way your eyes shine when you watch the sunset.

Your life fills a hole in the universe, and it keeps the void from spilling through.


How The Light Gets In

Sometimes in life, all you can do is brace yourself after the impact.  I believe in being prepared, but I’m beginning to realize that the hurricanes of life don’t always come with warnings.  At times, they just come.  I feel like I’ve gotten soaked through by a recent storm that I’m weathering, but I am also convinced that I am growing from it.  It still hurts.  But I don’t regret the growing.

I’ve been watching the ongoing demolition of Meyer Library here at Stanford, and it’s resonated with a place deep inside of me. I have only been inside this library twice (and I’ll admit the first time I was looking for a shortcut across campus; the second time I was looking for a bathroom) so I never really had sentimental feelings towards it.  However, in its destruction, the library has spoken to me in ways that all the books inside couldn’t have.


This hole opened up in Meyer just days after one opened up in me.

I’m realizing there are different types of people in life, and it’s hard to explain but all I can think of is the ocean shore.

Some people have brushed against my heart like sand, leaving shards that I feel I can do little with but slowly wrap with the nacre of my soul until they become pearls. These people are leaving me incrementally wiser and also more sensitive to others.  I am beginning to understand it now.  We’ve all gone through something that has changed us.

It is as the quote says: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

There are other people, too, though.  There are those beautiful hearts who have stood beside me on the shore when the storm surge drove me upon the rocks, shattering my shell into a dozen pieces and baring my soul to the burnished sky. There are those who have held the pieces with gentle hands.  Those who have listened.

Those who are healers.


Not long after the first gaping rend appeared in the library wall, I was walking past another corner of the building when a bit of light deep within caught my attention.


Sunlight was filtering into places it had never touched before.  Through the broken glass and twisted metal, the sun was streaming in.

To me, it was a perfect picture of the lyrics penned by Leonard Cohen in his song, “Anthem:”

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Everything that has been happening has been teaching me more deeply about humanity–about what it means to live and breathe and trust, what it means to feel like a kite cut loose from its string.  What it means to know that we all have felt things deeply, things that have made us who we are.  To know that there are reasons and stories behind every person.

Every one.


The afternoon sunlight caught the dust and turned it into an auburn mist as I walked by the library today.  The demolition is progressing at a remarkable pace, and a whole swath of sky is now open, no longer blocked by the roof and walls.  The library was opened in 1966, which means that I am one of the first people to see the sky from this perspective in 49 years.

It’s been nearly half a century since the sky has been open here.

That tells me a story, too.  Sometimes when things are broken, that’s when you really see.

Deliberate Practice

I’ve never really spent much time looking at the bricks inlaid on the path that runs past the Li Ka Shing Center, but yesterday morning I snapped pictures of the following words while on break between lectures.  I was trying to catch an impression that I wanted to write about without exactly knowing what it was, but today I think I know.




It came together after reading from the Harvard Business Review.

I hadn’t realized how breathtakingly relevant pieces from this journal could be to my training in medicine. As part of my Managing Difficult Conversations class, however, I was reading through an article in the HBR this morning when the following sentences jumped off the page and into my lap like an oversized tabby cat:

“Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all.”

This was particularly relevant because, just yesterday, I was mulling over how I am hesitant to do some parts of the physical exam when working with actual patients. The parts where I’m not yet confident of my skills.

Certain things I’ve practiced enough to feel mostly comfortable with—for example, placing the stethoscope in the four positions on the chest wall to listen to the heart. And some things are straightforward enough that they are no longer intimidating.  I am confident while feeling for the rush of blood through the carotid arteries, listening for bowel sounds, or examining the extremities for edema.

Other things leave me feeling like I’m approaching a forest with mist swirling about my feet. How exactly do I test strength and reflexes in a patient who is unable to leave the hospital bed?  Is that really the thyroid gland I’m feeling…or should I ask them to swallow one more time as I feel for the subtle slide of lobes beneath the skin? What if I forget to test one of the cranial nerves while doing the neurological exam?  What if I don’t feel something that is there, or if I think I feel something there that isn’t?

What if I mess up?

For me, our Practicum sessions this quarter have brought some of these anxieties to the forefront of my consciousness. In Practicum, we spend an afternoon in the hospital every other week, and during this time we each meet with an assigned patient to gather their history and perform parts of the physical exam. After the history and physical, we join our preceptor and present our patient’s case in (what is hopefully) a concise, organized manner. All this comes together to prepare us for when we start our clinical rotations, and it is an invaluable opportunity to gain actual experience in the hospital setting.

As I reflect on my own performance, however, I realize that my times of practice aren’t fully yielding the dividends I seek. This isn’t a fault of the sessions–Practicum gives me all the opportunities I need.  Since a good portion of my time is spent alone with my patient, I am the one who decides which questions to ask and which physical exam maneuvers to perform.  And as a student, I have the rare gift of time to do so.

But I have been drawn towards the things I already know how to do fairly well. I have the human love of discovery, but I also very much have the human love of competence. It’s uncomfortable pushing myself out onto the tight wire that spans the cliffs between what I am and what I can become.

As I read on, one other sentence in the HBR article caught my attention.  It especially stood out since we’ve been receiving coaching on how to improve the cohesiveness, clarity and delivery of our oral presentations in Practicum:

“Bear in mind that even Winston Churchill, one of the most charismatic figures of the twentieth century, practiced his oratory style in front of a mirror.”

It’s awkward to do so, perhaps, but this echoes what I’ve told about improving my presentation delivery by practicing out loud on my own.  More than any other time since starting medical school, I’m sensing that the way forward is through focused, intentional practice above and beyond what I would normally do in my sessions.  I need this deliberate practice–the sort of practice that drives me into the realms where I am not skilled, past all the whispering shadows of fears that would try to keep me out.

By embracing the discomfort of what I can’t do well, I will be in position to move forward in the way I need and want to.  I know who I am and who I have been; I am not one to back down in the face of challenges.  But somehow, my journey as a medical student is revealing vulnerabilities that have laid latent within my soul.

That’s okay, though.  As I talk with some of my classmates about these areas, I find that I’m not alone in how I feel.  We all have our own uncertainties, hopes, visions and vulnerabilities, and although on individual journeys, we’re still in this together.

I’m excited to see how far we’ll all have come a few years from now!  And since I’ve realized how to engage in deliberate practice, I’m not as afraid of falling short of my vision of who I want to be as a third- and fourth-year medical student.  I have a plan moving forward, and I believe I can actually get there.

I really do.


Yesterday, I performed my first rectal exam.

We began our Project Prepare sessions this week, which is a training program to teach us how to perform the male and female genitourinary exams in a sensitive and skilled manner. This was a big milestone for me, as I’ve been anticipating this day with some apprehension for about a year now. I remember one of my Practice of Medicine TA’s telling me about Project Prepare when he was a student in it last fall, and although I knew I would have my own turn in the program this year, time flew by faster than I expected.

So here I was on a Wednesday afternoon, about to learn how to perform the male breast, GU and rectal exam.

I had been told that the educators in the program are fantastic teachers, but I hadn’t realized just how amazing they would be until I met my trainer. The Project Prepare educators are people who have dedicated themselves to teaching these exams on their own bodies, and they are truly incredible. Because of them, what could have been a very discomforting experience ended up being one of the most amazing educational moments I’ve had yet. (Here is a San Francisco Chronicle article from 2003 on Project Prepare.)

I entered the simulated exam room with my three classmates, feeling as on-edge as if I was the one about to get a GU exam instead of the one learning to give it. Our instructor quickly set me at ease with his warm and genuine manner, though, as he explained that he would be modeling for us the same sort of communication we would be using with our future patients.

It really was a whole-hearted experience for me.  Here, I was the vulnerable one, uncertain about what was about to happen, while he was the calm one with years of experience. The dynamics were immediately appreciable; his approach to the encounter made all the difference.

That afternoon, I felt that I was the patient seeing a doctor, rather than a medical student seeing a patient. Now that I’ve been in medical school for a year, I’ve begun seeing more distinction between the identities within me—I am both patient and physician-student. At times, I feel a tension between these pieces of myself.   I believe this tension is not a bad thing, for it reveals an effort to maintain multiple perspectives, but it makes me think. In some sense, we all have this tension within us, although it may be defined by different parameters for different people. It is the same tension within the mother who is also an employee, the son who is also a husband, and the sister who is also a student.

This multifaceted dynamic within me is something that I have to accept as part of living within two worlds—or rather, within multiple hemispheres of the sphere of humanity. Even as I write this, I am a bit hesitant to admit this. This isn’t a struggle that I wanted to have, but it is one that I expected. Our Project Prepare session threw it into new light for me, and it has made me think of it again.

As I sat across from the one who was both my patient and teacher, I keenly felt the importance of bringing compassion and warmth into an encounter. If I can be as help my patients relax as well as my teacher helped me to, I will be very satisfied.

Over the course of the following three hours, we learned how to examine the breast tissue and the surrounding lymph nodes (although breast cancer is rare in males, it can still occur and is essential to screen for). Step by step, we practiced the genital examination and learned how to properly word our dialogue to minimize unease or apprehension. We checked for inguinal hernias and learned how to properly set up for the rectal exam.

As we neared the end of the session, it was my turn to do the digital rectal exam. I had already filed the nail on my dominant index finger to a down hairline crescent of white (we were provided with nail clippers and emery boards earlier in the session to get our nails as short and smooth as possible), and so I coated my gloved finger with lubricant up to the main knuckle.

The rectal exam was actually the most amazing part of the experience for me. Using the pad of my fingertip, I defined the contours of the prostate gland as I swept my finger across it, feeling for any abnormal textures or lumps. I had a sense of awe at examining that which I could not see, like trying to read Braille written within our bodies.

Like trying to find shapes in the spaces between the clouds when looking at the sky.

Morning clouds
Morning clouds
Afternoon sunlight and fall foliage at LKSC

I found it a bit funny how the day ended for me—I was participating in a poetry reading at the Cantor Center’s new Anderson Collection that evening, so I went almost straight from practicing the genitourinary exam to reading poetry at the event. It was a wonderful time; members of the Pegasus Physician Writers at Stanford shared original pieces of poetry inspired by the art collection, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet gave a stirring performance of Benjamin Britten’s Second String Quartet in Three Movements.

In a way, this odd juxtaposition of prostates and poetry seemed almost fitting to me. In Project Prepare, I looked again at my identity as a medical student within the greater world, which I relate to in part through writing. Creative writing is what helps me process the struggles of life, and I like to think that it will help me to better relate to my patients since it reminds me that everyone’s life is a story. We all have backstories, and we are all read as sentences and paragraphs, sometimes even as chapters.

Oftentimes, there are multiple storylines that run through our lives.

I am a patient.

I am a student-doctor.

I am human.

The Color of Hope


This evening, with the dusky sunlight suffusing the air with gold and pearl, I stopped to snap photos of some autumn leaves.



I love autumn.  It’s my favorite set of months, and each time I remember that it’s fall now I’m filled with anticipation of Thanksgiving, family time and the coming holidays.  I adore pumpkin spices, warm cinnamon, fresh apples, steaming lattes and crisp evenings.  And I love the colors of the season.


It’s splendid to watch the trees change color.  Green turns to red turns to brown and gray, like a sunset in slow motion fading to night.


This summer, though, I watched with dismay as some of the pine trees on campus faded to brown.  I don’t know why this happened.  Perhaps it has something to do with the drought we’ve been experiencing, but that doesn’t explain why so many other trees survived.  I’m guessing it might have been an insect infestation or disease of some sort, but I really don’t know.


I don’t like this kind of color change, this dulling to rust and brown.  Evergreens weren’t meant to be brown like this.

It’s not at all like fall.  The brilliant red leaves of the liquid amber can fade to auburn, and the flaming bracts of the trees outside my window can dull to a muddied gray, but that won’t stir the same vague sense of loss that these dying pines awaken in me.  There is something lonely about a lifeless pine.  Perhaps it is because I grew up where pines stretch to brush the azure sky, singing in the wind.  Or perhaps it is because I know it will be at least half a century before a tree this thick-trunked and tall stands in this place again.


Fallen pine needles, like the strains of a song fading into silence.

It makes me wonder…why is it that the same series of color changes can stir anticipation and joy in one situation, and sadness in another?

As I thought about this, I realized it’s because with the autumn trees, I know the time of leafless branches will be followed again by spring.  It’s not permanent, while these dead pines are.  They won’t bud again next year.

But the other trees will.


And so fall colors are colors of hope.

I paused to catch the simple yin and yang of a feather against a fallen leaf, the soft, gray down of a mourning dove’s plume against the crackling backdrop of earthbound foliage.  The similarity of their form is striking, perhaps further highlighting the sharp contrast of their textures.

It’s like life.  The dichotomy of what we experience–the good against the bad–ultimately helps us to more fully recognize and appreciate the good.

I suppose this is why we do what we do in medicine.  Our work is built upon hope–the hope of something good on the other side of suffering, whether that takes the form of a cure or the giving of comfort.  As I delve further into my life as a second-year, I’m beginning to realize everything is deeper, bigger, and more complicated than I had imagined.  I spent some days these past few weeks shadowing in the ICU, and sometimes I’m left wondering how I fit into this intricate network of human suffering and joy.  What can I give?

I can be a hope-bearer.  I can help people find hope.  Maybe it’s not the hope of everything turning out how we wanted or planned, but rather the hope that springs from knowing there are people who truly care and love.  I still have a lot to learn about this, but this is a beginning.



This is the loss of green.  The loss of the fresh, living spring and the vibrant, bursting summer.  But it is still beautiful, so beautiful.  I can love the fall because I know the trees will bud again, and this hope frees me to fully embrace the spicy, glorious, flame-filled wonder of this season.

This is the color of hope.


Remind me why I chose this way
Where I am going,
The meaning of knowing

Remind me who I really am
All that defines me,
The pen that outlines me

Remind me what colors fill this life
The red of blood,
The white of light

Remind me why I walk this path
A serpent bound
Upon the staff

– The Stethoscopist