Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blessings of Child Psychiatry

Child psychiatry is a hidden blessing. I've shadowed the same doctor twice, and each time, I learn a few new things. They're all relevant and all important, but in shadowing the life of a doctor, I've come to understand many things about life, many things about death, and many things about chronically ill children.

It is astounding to me how many of my pre-conceived notions about the field of psychiatry were dispelled as soon as I walked into the first consult of the day. Mentally ill children, chronically ill children, developmentally delayed children all have one thing, if not many things, in common. They're children!

The innocence of a child doesn't leave him/her as the result of a psychiatric illness, medical trauma, or otherwise. Patients still asked us why things were happening, they were scared, they were frustrated, and they were confused.

Their smiles, their laughter, and their authentic emotion made me understand one thing: Life isn't something to ever take for granted. To always wonder why things are a certain way is a very healthy, proactive attitude. Honesty is your best policy always, but especially with children. Often, they're more perceptive than we give them credit for being.

In private dialogue with the doctor, I discussed with him what he thought about my abilities in psychiatry, as he saw me in case reviews, case conferences, patient-parent interactions, and socialization with other doctors. The one thing that has caused a smile to permanently grace my face is the fact that he said that he believed every single one of my demonstrated abilities were natural. The funny thing is, though, that doesn't matter. To avoid narcism, I'll say that if something we did as a team brightened the life of a child, even for just that moment, it was all worth it.

A face to face encounter with an actively dying patient isn't ever easy, but my first encounter happened with a teenager on this psychiatry service. I realized my love for life, my zest for people, and more importantly, my longing to make medicine a career for a lifetime, Death is a difficult concept for many people, and the experience was tough, but it was the most rewarding thing I've witnessed.

Though this post is pretty jumbled, there's one thing you should know. Kids are still kids, regardless of their labels. It's all too often that they are treated as soup cans. Second, you might be reading the ramblings of a future psychiatrist. Only time will tell!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independence Day

July 4, 2010 is a day that will be forever etched into my brain. It's the day that I truly had a moment to reflect on what 'independence' means to me as an American citizen and as a sister who has a brother commissioning into the Navy in a few weeks. He'll be a "Navy doctor" when all is said and done, and I couldn't be more proud. The Navy will pay for the entirety of his medical education, and I know he's excited. Yet, as "Anchors Aweigh" proudly graced my ears during a church service yesterday, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride. My brother, a soon-to-be first year medical student, is willing to make his medical education all about service to his country, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. As I stood with my hand over my heart, I fought back tears.

Since the rocky start that we had to him accepting my wanting to become a doctor, I've talked it out to him. He understands, he's completely on-board, and he teaches me every single day. You see, he spent a year in a Carribbean medical school, but due to some financial issues with the institution, he had to come home for a while and reapply in the United States. He's so excited, and I'm so excited for him. He'll be at a school about an hour and a half from me, so I'll take weekend trips to see him, to help him study, and to just enjoy our time. I love him. So, so much.

Further, I began thinking. Independence means that I, as a disabled American citizen, can become a doctor. And that is the greatest gift I can think of getting. No matter the challenge, Americans live in a country where there has been legislation adopted that protects them and that ensures equality. Though I, and the many others with disabilities will have difficulty that is unexpected or not able to be foreseen, it is incredible to me that there is such a freedom where, in essence, those difficulties don't matter. That is such a blessing and such a reward, and I'm so honored.

Later in the afternoon, we went to see the new version of the film Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. Honestly, it was one of the deepest films I've seen in a long, long time. A scene that stuck out to me and that will most likely creep up in later writing took place after Jaden Smith sustained an injury to his knee during the semi-finals of the kung fu tournament. As he laid in pain on the stretcher, he asked Jackie Chan if he should return to the match, and Jackie Chan said that he didn't think his current condition would permit it. Jaden, the twelve year old that he is, reminded Chan of something he told Jaden a long time ago. He said, "When life knocks you down, you stand straight back up."

I couldn't help but think about that as being exactly the philosophy that medicine has instilled in me. Not necessarily for what it has done for me as a patient but what it has done for me as a future doctor is incredible. I have so, so much to be thankful for, including the patients I will serve, the insights they will give me, and the trust that is instilled in a doctor-patient relationship. See? It's not about me. It's about them.

May you all discover the beauty of independence and the gift of freedom!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Inspiration Beyond Words

There are no words to describe the story I'm going to let these few videos tell you. Just sit back, relax, and be inspired!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Lifetime Wish

In pediatrics, there's often discussion of how a doctor is not only treating the child, but that you're also guiding the parents in making healthy decisions in regards to their child.

That's something I want, over all things. I want, more than anything in this world, for my child's own pediatrician to guide me through milestones, through diaper rashes, and through the frustrations of temper tantrums.

I want to be able to bandage the knees of my child and to have the magic kiss that takes all the pain away. I want to show a child love like he's never seen before. I long for my arms to be a safehaven for his tears and my heart a safety net for his fears.

I constantly think about my situation, however. I understand that fertility isn't an issue associated with cerebral palsy, and for that, I'm immensely grateful. However, I worry. I worry about being pregnant from a physical standpoint. Bedrest for 3 months? I'll take it. All that matters is that I'm bringing a precious soul and a precious life into the world, and for that, I'll do nearly anything.

My heart also is called to the throws of international adoption. Children who have so little and deserve so much need a breath of new life, new hope, new joy, and new love. And really, adoption follows a similar process to childbirth in that it allows parents to restore hope in the life of a child, and in my opinion, that's the greatest privilege anyone could be given.

It is blogs and Youtube videos like Steve and Kate's that make me understand what undying love for a child looks like. It's Dr. Smith's photos of his granddaughter, and it's my own memories of my mother in my childhood.

The only thing that I want more than marriage and to become a doctor is to be a mother. To be a mother of a young child who will learn, grow, and love in the tight grasp of my hug. My heart is heavy, but I'm certain. My lifetime wish will come true.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Native Inspiration.

For whatever reason, via Twitter or Facebook, it's been difficult for me to find medical students/doctors/medical professionals from the state in which I reside, which is Georgia. It's quite sad, but I'm not surprised. We're behind in nearly everything, so why not be behind in technology and social media as well?

It might be hard for me to write this post without a few tears, so if the keyboard is slick and there are a few typos, please excuse me. Read on, and you'll figure out why.

I had just declared a pre-medical intent. It was the end of February or early March, and as doctors often do on Twitter, many of the doctors that I follow follow this doctor with the handle "doc_rob", so I clicked on his handle to find out more about him.

And then the moment occurs.

I read: Location: Georgia (Augusta).

I breathe, and I take a moment to contain my excitement.

I read again: Location: Georgia (Augusta).

Could it be? I found a Georgia doctor! I really did!

Immediately, I clicked to follow him, and I tweeted him a simple message, which was something to the effect of "Hi, I'm a pre-medical student from GA. Pleased to follow you!" We got to chatting about school and discovered that he is a short drive away from me.

The "awesome-this-world-is-so-small" connection is just the beginning. You see, Dr. Rob has taught me so many things, and I'd like to publically thank him while sharing his lessons with you.

Dr. Rob has taught me, rather indirectly, how to truly love medicine. Each time I read his blog posts, as humorous as they may be, I know. I know that he truly loves his job, his practice, and the life that "doctordom" has created for he, his wife, and their four children. I know that being a doctor doesn't require a lifestyle of seriousness in the sense that a doctor can't have other hobbies. Though his blog is healthcare oriented and one of the most educational blogs on the 'net to date, he has fun. What doctor would give me a Golden Llama Award and cause me to think it was a blogging Grammy or something like that? He has fun. That's most important.

Dr. Rob has also taught me even further to find joys in the simple things. It was a short time ago in which he wrote about why he loves being a doctor. Through the simple, underappreciated action of a hug, he showed his patient that he valued her as a person in addition to his patient. He cared for her as a person and as a patient. In that sense, he not only taught me because I'm a fellow human being. See people for all they are, all they bring, and all they have.

Finally, the last thing Dr. Rob has taught me (for now, anyway) is that anyone can do anything they work hard to achieve. I'm aware this sounds cliche, but it just means more than you know to have "homegrown" support. From tweets to blogs to podcasts, Dr. Rob teaches.

And he teaches from his heart. Thank you, Dr. Rob, for being the intelligent, hysterical doctor, mentor, social media fanatic that you are. I appreciate you more than you know!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'm A Person, Too

A few days ago, a mentor of mine posted a tweet that caught my eye. The woman that had originally tweeted had a complaint about seeing a woman in a wheelchair one minute, and then the same woman was hauling her luggage out on foot a few minutes later. Her argument was that the wheelchairs used in airports shouldn't be free unless someone had documentation. My mentor, a well-respected pediatrician, indicated that not all disabilities were visible.

Agreeing with him to the point at which I was almost in tears, I responded that though I have a condition that is visible, I also have a condition that's not. Even more, there are distances that are just too much for me depending on the day's events and energy conservation. The tweeter then responded that she thought that I would react the same way if someone was acting that way, and I replied with a simple "Not at all. That could have been me!" And then I gave her a tip that I'd like to share with all of you. Most of you know this, and to most of you, it would be common sense, but please indulge me.

If you're ever in contact with someone who looks like they may be having difficulty, and you're concerned, instead of uttering something under your breath and making assumptions, simply go up to them and ask if you can assist. Some people with extra challenges will get a little pestered by that, but at least you used your concern in a productive manner, and there was absolutely no harm done.

In relation to the "visibility" issue, I have hydrocephalus, and though I haven't had any troubles for ten years (knock on wood), being out in a public place when symptoms start could pose some danger that might be strange to those people who aren't as well-aware of the condition.

On the same note, the "making assumptions" act is rude. It would be almost as if I were to look down the street and see a woman walking her dog. "Oh, that woman doesn't have a car, so she must have to walk everywhere she goes." Who knows? Maybe the woman is enjoying the evening breeze and getting her exercise.

Next time this happens to me, do I have permission to scream, "I'm a person, too?"

Because chances are, I just might.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Anatomy of a Dream

As evidenced by the content of this blog, one of my biggest dreams (for a really, really long time, might I add!) has been becoming a doctor.

Another, hidden inconspicuously within each and every word of this blog, is to become a published author. Picture this: a ten year old Erin, writing an assignment for her fourth grade language arts teacher about the absolute miracle that happened to her just a few weeks prior. A week later, she receives the assignment with the teacher's comments, and the only things she had said were "I'm speechless. Wonderful job." Back at home, I had an uncle who was an English professor, and he was elated to find that I had honed these expressive language skills. I would talk about writing with him for more hours than you and I can count. "What's the best way to get better?" I'd ask. "Practice. Every single day." he'd answer sincerely.

And so, for the last ten years, it's what I've done. I've practiced. Every. Single. Day. After browsing some tearful inspiration for the last couple nights, I developed the idea for my memoir to be written in a series. Since I'm twenty, I'll write the manuscripts in increments of five years. Though I want to keep many details under wraps for now, I'll have you know that I am working more diligently than ever this summer to make A's in my courses and to make my dream a reality. It is my dream. With the ideas that I have and the heart that I've developed for the art that is the written word, I'm confident that it will happen. I will write things that no one has ever heard me say out loud. I will write my heart. I will write my soul. I will hope to connect with my readers in such a way that they will understand my perspective, empathize with it, and internalize it.

Most of all, I'll write because I love it. I'll write because it's my voice, and I'll write because words are the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and I'm so blessed to be able to use them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I'm Just Saying

I'm just saying. I've had a headache for three solid days now, and the only thing that really helps me is to lie down in a semi-dark room. I'm just saying that I'm really, really tired of my head hurting.

Over-the-counter medications are great when they work, but, geez. Oh, my aching head.

We're going on family vacation tomorrow, and while I'm super excited, I never said this headache could go with us. I'm just saying.

I can return to the semi-human world for a few hours per day, and then it's back to the dark room with the closed blinds and the oh-so-comfortable blogging chair or full-sized bed. I am really lucky to have been blogging like I have. It keeps my mind off the ache, and I'm just really weak.

I'm okay. I'm just sayin'. I hate, hate, hate headaches. They scare me, but then Angel Doctor saves my life, so all is right with the world again!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Heart As Big As The Hospital

Pictured above is the Columbia University Medical Center. It is, in fact, the place I hope to complete a few rotations during medical school, if not all of them. But you know, it got me to thinking a bit deeper. It got me to thinking that though a human heart is born to love, care, respect, and so much more, the doctor's heart truly is something special and really something that should be as big as the hospital.

You see, our hearts aren't the ones that thrive off of the scientific side of medicine; our heads are simply satisfied with that. Our hearts, however, thrive on seeing our patients healing, responding, and most importantly, thriving. I just noticed that I'm using the pronoun "our" just as though I'm a doctor, but if there's one thing I've learned in my short career as a 'future doctor',' it would have to be the fact that once you're certain that you'd like to enter the medical profession as a doctor, in particular, it doesn't matter how much educaton you have in order to have the same mindset. It's just the heart that's important.

One of my personal doctors, namely, my neurosurgeon, showed me that his heart is indeed as big as the hospital in the late night hours of July 11, 2000.

My parents had gone to the Braves All-Star game that night at Turner Field, and my sister and I were staying with my mom's best friend's daughter, who is now the best nurse I've ever seen. For a week, I had been displaying flu-like symptoms, which, for those of us who are fortunate enough to carry around a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, can be extremely treacherous.

After my parents had arrived home and I had been lying on the couch with a pillow over my face, lying flat on my back, and vomiting incessantly all night long, my mom decided it was time to really evaluate the situation to see what conditions were and how we should handle the situation. I ate, I believe it was a popsicle, sitting straight up in a straight back recliner because I couldn't move my neck due to severe pain, and I couldn't touch my chin to my chest. Which, unbeknown to my ten year old self at the time, is a sure sign for shunt failure. A sure sign.

After eating the popsicle with laborious effort, I told my mom to call the hospital. At the ripe old age of ten years old, I had more body awareness than most do in their lifetime. I knew something was wrong. A brief phone call led to a rushed trip to the hospital that is fifteen minutes from our house.

I vaguely remember the parking lot of the hospital that night. Shortly after we got out of the car, I fainted, cold and lifeless, in my mother's arms. Hurriedly running into the emergency department, she screams, "DOCTOR! WE NEED A DOCTOR NOW!" The doors of the emergency department flung open, and still unresponsive, I laid on te bed in the observation room as the staff prepared to airlift me to my pediatric hospital, which is about fifty minutes from the local hospital. Shortly after the phonecall was made, I became responsive once again, and turned my head to the right. To my right, I saw my twin sister. I heard her screaming, "Please don't let her die!" over the crocodile tears that streamed down her face.

The decision was finally made that I would be transported by ground to the pediatric hospital, and my mother, her best friend, and my sister would follow behind us. Inside the ambulance, it was all I could do to keep from screaming. I was grateful for the emergency medical staff around me, the doctor that came with me, and the millions of intravenous fluid tubes surrounded the gurney, but all I wanted was quiet, The pounding, so loudly echoing inside my head, drained me of my energy. Drained me of my life. Drained me of my soul.

Upon arriving at the hospital, the first person I saw who looked vaguely familiar was my uncle, who lives about ten minutes from the hospital. I remember just the outline of his face and the thick Harry Potter book curled into his right hand. "Hello there, sweet girl," he muttered. "Hi, Uncle Jim," I responded back. "Thank you." While we waited for my mother, many things happened, most of which I only have faint memories. A skinny, dutiful anesthesiologist walks into the room and says he needs to take me back for imaging. Immediately confused, I ask for a radiology technician. Ultimately, she was the one to escort me. Maybe the anesthesiologist meant well, but I wasn't taking any chances without my mother, a backup person who knew my history. Finally, after the CT scan was complete, I see my mother for the first time since the local hospital.

Shortly thereafter, the radiologist had reviewed the scans, we were under the impression that my doctor had been called, and he revealed that shunt failure had been ruled out. Here we go on the battle known as viral meningitis. First stop: The lab. For a lumbar puncture. Meanwhile, my mom was pacing up and down the hall outside the temporary room. Suddenly, she runs into my neurosurgeon. He's headed out of the emergency exit doors as she blurts, "Oh, thank God. You're here!" He stopped, and he asked my mom what she was doing at the hospital. Mid-sentence, he stopped. He screamed, "Where in the world is Erin?" Mom tells him, and he runs.

As the doors to the lab fly open, the needle is inches from my spine. I hear his voice, my cry becomes louder, and he comes to the head of the bed in my line of vision. He takes the needle from the doctor's hand, and calmly, he whispers, "It's okay. I'll take care of this." Grabbing my hand, he smiles. "Hey, little girl. You're okay. Let me take some fluid and then we'll see each other in the OR in 30 minutes. Sound good?" I nod my head slightly.

The surgery is performed, and everything is now revised. I'm feeling well after a night in the hospital, and the door to my hospital room creaks open. I hear a sniffle, see my doctor with his round glasses and sharp grin peering through the door, and I smile. Coming to sit down on the bed, he faintly says, "Wow. I think that was a fluke last night." My mom looks confused. "Why do you say that, Doc?" she asks. "Because no one ever paged me. I didn't know you were here. I woke up at 3am and decided I just needed to go to the hospital. My wife thought I was nuts."

Teary-eyed, my mom responds, "No, Doc. It wasn't a fluke. It was a miracle. You saved my daughter's life."

My angel doctor proved to me that his heart is indeed as big as the hospital, and his heart will be reflected in my own.

Thanks, Angel Doctor. I love you.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Return of the Blogging Chair

Last evening, my mom came into my bedroom and offered me something. In her mind, she was offering me a green, fluffy, round armchair from her bedroom to fill a space beneath the floor lamp in my bedroom, but little did she know.

She offered the return of the place of my greatest blogging inspirations, the chair that has seen me cry many, many tears and laugh one decibel too loud. Just loud and hard enough, in fact, that my ribs began to ache.

I'm excited for the return of the blogging chair. That means this summer will be filled with more blogging than you can imagine. And, by the way, some of you might need to dig out your own blogging chairs! I need some help! Four guest posts while I'm on vacation next week are up for grabs! Just see my new guest blogging page for more information, and I look forward to hearing your little inspirations from your own little blogging chairs!

Oh, and one more thing! I'm working to start a group blog for attending physicians, medical students, residents, and possibly other health professionals with disabilities. Though I haven't created the official blog yet due to waiting to see whether or not there is enough interest, I have created a Twitter account and Facebook page so that we can start connecting. If you're a doctor or other health professional, please consider promoting the creation of this group blog that I believe will benefit many. We'll be called "Doctors with Disabilities". Yes, I know. It's original, right? But catchy! The blog already has an e-mail account in an effort to manage correspondence! Thanks for your assistance with this promotion!

Here's to many tales from the blogging chair! I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Snippets of the Story: Legs of an Erin

If you read the tagline of my blog, you'll discover that I have a physical challenge. To be clear, it's one diagnosis that creates many different difficulties. In this series of posts titled "Snippets of the Story," I hope to enlighten you on some of those things.

For today, we'll start with the legs. Oh, the legs. I'll break it down into parts of the leg to make it easier to digest.

You see, my quadriceps have a hard, hard life. Due to cerebral palsy, they pull most of the weight in my leg, and because I've been walking (for 15 years this November!) in such a distorted manner for so long, my quadriceps hurt. Like hell most days, but it's nothing I'm not well-accustomed to, so though I may let out a few "yelps" that resemble a hurting animal, I'm okay. Really, I swear I am. In addition to flat out hurting, my quadriceps are arguably the strongest part of my body. It's because those are the muscles you use most in your leg when you walk or when you use your leg in everyday life. If you're not a doctor, medical student, or haven't spent a large, long time in dealing with the anatomical make up and function of the human body, I'd be surprised if you ever thought about that. That's okay, though. That's why you have me.

My knees have taking a beating for the last fifteen years (well, really longer than that) that has caused the damage to become irreversible. For example, the lateral patellar retinaculum in both of my knees is inflamed. I think the patellar tendon might be as well, but I'd like to not think of my injuries anymore than I have to, thankyouverymuch. My knees sustained much of their current damage due to the fact that my gait causes my knees to shift inward, if that makes sense. So much so that some days, my knees even rub together when I'm standing still, also known as crouching. It's just because I have re-wired my brain to do things that my body wasn't meant to do or my brain wasn't meant to process. It's all my fault, and I admit that, but I wouldn't be where I am today had I not decided that walking was something I wanted to do at the ripe old age of five-and-a-half. I've always got painkillers on hand for my knees, as they are the one thing that bothers me the most, if anything, but I haven't taken "knee medicine" in about 5 weeks or so. Maybe longer than that!

My triceps (the three muscles that make up the area of your leg known as the "calf") are incredibly strong. Sometimes they like to tingle and make me think I'm about to faint, but most of the time they do well, and as mentioned, they are incredibly strong, so it take a lot to get them stirred up if there's something going on with my body. They also are the world's best stair climbers. It's sych a blessing to have them to be able to climb massive staircases (not that I have to, thanks to the invention of the elevator) that are sometimes unavoidable.

Last, but certainly not least, are my Achilles tendons. I've had a lengthening on the right side due to the fact that the heel wouldn't touch the ground, making it almost impossible to work. Though the right side does tend to have a little bit more soreness due to scar tissue from the surgery seven years ago, I really have no problems with them as a whole.

I hope you've enjoyed this snippet of my story, and I'll see you back here for more really soon!

Monday, May 31, 2010

What All People Should Know About Me, The Future MD Part I

To the people who say that the prerequisites for medical school will be difficult: Thank you, thank you. I know. If I didn't know that, why would I be diving into commitment that involves being constantly educated, constantly tested, and constantly, perpetually exhausted?

To the people who say that I'm no good at math and science and am therefore doomed: Well, first, I'd like to say thank you for your underestimation of my abilities. It really says something when the people who "love" and care for me the most don't believe that I can work for what I want. Yes, I will admit: the two subjects haven't been my strongest points in the past, but if you can believe this or not, they both have a deeper meaning now. You just wait. I'll prove you all wrong in two months.

To the people who constantly are telling me that it's a hard feat to get into medical school: No, really?! You don't think I understand that fact? But I'm confident in my own abilities that I will get there. I'll do whatever it takes to score well on the MCAT, to boost my GPA to medical school quality, and you know what? I'll blow the socks off of the interview and admission committees.

To the people who don't believe I'll get into medical school outside the state of Georgia: Well, you know what? Thanks for teaching me to limit my options, and even more than that, you're continuing to underestimate me. Honestly, it's all the motivation I need to succeed even further. So, again, I thank you.

To the people who tell me I've never had an interest in science before: You know, interests change. People change, circumstances change, and viewpoints change. Things happen. And my interest in medicine and becoming a doctor is the most powerful passion I've had in a long, long time.

...and you know what's funny about you people? None of you are doctors or medical students. In fact, doctors and medical students are the ones who have the most faith in me. So, thanks people, thanks!

Remembering the Simple Gifts

On this Memorial Day, it is a time to reflect on the sacrifices made for our country and for the people, our servicemen and women, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. As the song says, it's a gift to be free. Thanks to my Twitter buddy, @docCcycline, for the inspiration.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Five Simple Questions

This post, though from my previous blog, really sums the whole thing up. Without further ado, minus the music therapy bits, here's my story. Answered in five simple questions.

As I'm sure many of you have seen if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I have a newly established goal. This is a dream that has really never come to the forefront of my mind simply because I've doubted my abilities. While continuing to do a little bit of that, as is natural with ne situations and fresh changes, I have decided that I will achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. The branch of medicine in which I would like to specialize is one of the best laid plains I've seen to-date. I remember being a toddler and telling my doctors that one day, I would be one of them. And I can't wait to tell them that the dream I've waited for has always come true. I have several dreams, as does everyone, but this one is my ultimate dollhouse dream. I've felt as though everything else I was aspiring to do was just "the next best thing" to what I really, in my heart of hearts, felt was my calling. Now, I completely understand. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, my calling to become a doctor.

The math and science requirements to be admitted to medical school scare me. I know that my brain wasn't "wired" to take that many courses in such difficult subjects, but where there's a will, there's a way. I have a meeting with a pre-medical adviser later on this month, so I can adequately prepare for the discussion to eloquently express my fears, my excitements, and my concerns.

The field of medicine that I hope to enter is one that many of you, involved in the lives of individuals with special needs, will come across in the future, or it may be one that you have come across already. Physical medicine and rehabilitation is a field of medicine that focuses on maintaining the quality of life of a person with a disability, disease, or illness. For example, the doctors that many of you have come across have been neurologists. Your neurologist (primarily in the pediatric field) has given you opinions, made decisions, and administered treatments in attempts to improve the condition of your child or loved one. As a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, otherwise known as a physiatrist, I will be charged with helping patients to maintain a patient's condition by developing pain management plans, assisting patients to achieve proper nutrition, partnering with allied therapists to facilitate rehabilitation, and many other similar tasks.

Music therapy is directly related to PM&R due to the fact that it is an allied therapy, so my undergraduate degree won't be neglected by any means, and I'm so thankful for that! Who knows? I may become the doctor known for using music with patients in exam rooms!

Before I take you on the wild ride that is this journey, I bet I know five questions that you will have, so let me attempt to answer them for you now.

Who? This question really has a three-part answer. The first part of the answer is that I feel as though my heart has played the biggest role in my decision, which is a wonderful thing. It's very often, though, that I have an inner battle of head vs. heart because of the difficulties that I face, be it physically, academically, or virtually any aspect of the process, but I have to say that confidence is slowly building, and I am continually seeing indicators that this is just what I have wanted to do. It's the biggest decision I've ever made. The second part to the answer is that I've been exposed to the workings of the medical field for nearly twenty years, and I feel as though my personal experiences will be the biggest asset that I will have to offer patients. In addition, I feel as though I will really become motivated to explore academic areas that have really turned me off in the past and that the experiences will allow me to develop stronger coping mechanisms for use when I encounter difficult situations. Thirdly, as you all well know, people have a great influence on me. Just take Dr. MT, for example. My mentor is McDoc, brimcmike, Dr. Mc, you know, he has several names. His story is incredible and is one worth reading. He may guest blog for us one of these days!

What? Physical medicine and rehabilitation deals with restoring maximum function after an injury, an injury that is related to a disability, or an injury related to illness. One thing that greatly appeals to me in terms of PM&R is that the treatments executed by the physicians is very holistic insofar as the physician is charged with examining the whole individual rather than single affected areas and/or symptoms. The field, in general, is also a strong proponent of allied therapies, which include, but are not limited to, music therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I feel as though PM&R is the top of the top in terms of the things I have wanted to do with my life. PM&R is an extension of my "dollhouse dream," and I couldn't be more excited.

When? I have three and a half more years (7 semesters) left of my undergraduate degree, but with the credits that I plan to obtain in the summer sessions and Maynester sessions, it may cut down on the time. I will continue working on both the pre-medical requirements and music therapy requirements and may work as a graduate assistant or employee of the university while finishing my pre-medical requirements. I will have to wait until I talk to the pre-medical advisers, but for now, my projected graduation date is December 2013, and I would like for it to stay that way if it possibly can. I would then apply for jobs and for medical school, and wait it out. I think that if I take the courses as soon as I can before the MCAT, it will result in a better score. I'm so motivated.

Where? As you may know, it is my dream to attend Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. During my time there, I hope to observe at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and find a residency, hopefully with McDoc, in Boston. I want medical school to be adventurous; I want it to be a time where I can discover my independence thousands of miles away from familiarity, and I want it to be the most rewarding experience of my life, no matter where I am.

Why? I feel as though the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation is at "the top of the food chain" in terms of the things that I have aspired to do and be during my lifetime. Special education, music therapy, etc. Everything I have ever done has been related in some way to the field, and I feel as though this is the best way possible to give back to the ones who have saved my life and who have been there for me since birth and before then. I feel as though the credibility that will hopefully be attained as a result of my becoming a doctor will assist in the encouraging patients to achieve and fulfill their hopes goals, and dreams.

How? The answer to this one is simple for now. I will finish out my undergraduate degree and take my certification exam for music therapy and then will take a weekend course to get certified in neurologic music therapy. Depending on whether or not I am able to finish the requirements for medical school in 4 1/2 - 5 years, I will find a job and return to school part time to finish the courses and apply to medical school. As far as physical issues are concerned, Dr. DeLisa has wonderful comments regarding physicians with disabilities and the way that they are perceived in medical school and beyond. So, for now, I will focus on doing the best I can in my classes and worry about the little, nit-picky things when the time comes.

I am so excited to see what happens with this journey, and if you have any further curiosities, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Orthotics? What's the point?

Those of you who may follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or even read the other blog) may know that I wear orthotics. As defined, orthotics are "orthopedic 'appliance[s]' designed to support, straighten or improve the functioning of a body part; an orthosis." The ones that adorn my feet (and have since I was eight years old) are called SMOs, or supramalleolar orthoses. Before I turned eight, the doctor prescribed that I wear an AFO (ankle-foot orthosis) on my left foot, while an SMO was on the right.

Before the transition, I wore two AFOs, which is standard for children with cerebral palsy, and they are often referred to as "leg braces" to the general population.

As a general rule, I disagree with orthotics. Though they have assisted me to achieve my current level of ambulation, I believe that they give the consumer a false sense of reality. Through the early years, orthotics will be helpful to a child, but as he/she matures and develops, they become more of a hindrance than an assistance. For example, if my SMOs were not "trimmed" at the toes, I would not have known what the ground felt like when walking, and it could have taken more time for me to successfully achieve that goal. Orthotics have been a key player in my achievements with mobility and balance, but I feel as though they have become one of the older practices in children with disabilities and medical needs.

Think about the definition of the word "orthotic" described above. Life shouldn't be like that. A veer off the straight and narrow path of life, and the traditional methodologies for your career, for your family, for your academic life, or for your social relationships is the way that they spoil, the way that they expire, and the way that they can die out. Such a "cookie cutter" of an existence can cause one to slowly burn out and feel out-of-place, feel unwanted, or feel as if there might be something of a higher passion instilled within him/her.

As a matter of fact, a realization of a true dream and the realization that it can come true has happened in my life over the last few months. Since I was young, I have been heavily immersed in the medical field, due to the fact that I have had many, may, many issues and doctor visits over the years (as have many of you!), and I feel as though it is, and always has been, my calling to enter into the medical field.

I've never been able to find a profession, aside from that of a medical doctor, which will allow the interactions with patients that I think I'm seeking. It's always been in the back of my mind to go to medical school, but what if you do not enjoy math, science, and the things associated with the endeavor? Many would think that it would be problematic, but it's really not. There are ways that you can become a medical doctor and still not specifically enjoy either one. In fact, in recent years, according to my university's pre-medical website, students who have non-science based degrees.

Thus, it is my dream to go on to medical school to become a pediatric physiatrist and/or a developmental pediatrician, or a Doctor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

One thing I desperately hope for my medical school career is that it isn't dominated by orthotics, figurateively or literally, and that I am able to enjoy the benefits of the practice I've been doing by wearing shoes without my braces for quite some time now. If its a strenuous day, I usually try to stick to an athletic shoe, but more and more, I try to expose the situation in as many environments as possible, similar to the philosophies of the clinical years of medical school

Are you ready for the wild, orthotic-free ride for the next nearly twelve years?

image credit: TC Flex AFO System

Thursday, May 27, 2010


One of the most infamous questions of my lifetime, and of anyone else's, I'm sure, is simply "Why?" From the age-old rhetorical question "Why is the sky blue?" to my favorite one "Hey you! Why do you walk like that?", curiosity often gets the best of all of us from time to time.

Now, you're in luck. Though I've partially answered to the reasons I'd like to become a doctor, there's so much more. So, today, on this very day, you'll understand the intimacies of the reasons I will become "Erin, M.D." sooner than I think.

I've always come across the fact that people assume I want to become a doctor because it's just what I've known all my life. To give you a simple answer, it'll take just a few abbreviations and maybe some terms.

Well, you have the born at 26 weeks gestation factor, then you have atalectasis, then you have an IVH* with a grade four bleed, and then you have ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement, six revisions in nearly twenty years, Botulinium toxin** injections once every six months for fifteen years, physical therapy four five hours a week for 12 years (that's 3,120 hours, by the way), and oh, we can't forget the orthopedic surgeries.

Even after all of that medical jargon, that's still not the reason why I would like to become a doctor.

People are my passion. Teaching people the ways that they can live as healthy of a life as possible for as long as possible with the highest possible quality is my passion. It's my joy.

Possibility should be synonymous for a career in medicine. Frankly, that's what we, as future and current doctors, are responsible for showing our patients the possibilities. We're responsible for seeing to it that our patients are given a fair opportunity for complete, total healing and complete, total health.

And that, my friends, is why I want to be a doctor!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Top Five Reasons Why I'm a Nerd

As a pre-medical student, there are lots of reasons why people would think I am a nerd. And most of the time, to say I'm a nerd, is accurate. Here are just ten (and only ten!) reasons why yours truly just might be considered a nerd!

5: My Twitter feed is full of medical students and pre-medical students. Some of my closest medical related Twitter "friends" are even doctors. It's really neat to see the conversations we get into, usually about medical ethics and the requirements for medical school admissions, and to see where the conversation takes us.

4: Well, well. This is another one that just evolved within the last week, but you can find me reading my developmental psychology book when it's not assigned reading. Unfortunately, the class doesn't finish the whole textbook, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be keeping it until I finish and maybe beyond that. It's such a neat book that I would recommend it to any doctor or medical student to keep as a reference to understand how best to explain the complexities of childhood so that a parent (or maybe even a child!) can understand. It truly is a wonderful, wonderful book.

3: I am completely and totally interested in social media's relationship to healthcare. In other words, can we use tools like Twitter and Facebook to empower patients and to give them full access to healthcare professionals? This topic is of such interest to me that I participate in a "Healthcare in Social Media" tweet disucussion every Sunday night at 9/8c! You should join me and other interested parties to see how healthcare's presence in social media is on the rise, is effective, and is allowing a better chance to foster a positive patient-provider relationship!

2: I have always been interested in children with significant special needs. Partly due to the fact that I have something so deeply in common with these children, the other side of the coin is that I am ready and willing to help them defy the standards, just as I have by attending college and (soon to be!) medical school, and sometimes that means that the complexity of their needs is the least of my concerns when I think about all of their potential and the ways that they will be able to impact society as a whole. This is where the special education teacher in me comes back. Thus, I will specialize in developmental pediatrics as well as pediatric rehabilitation.

1: I love to watch videos like the one below. Youtube is a wonderful bank of solid knowledge (and, by the way, is celebrating its fifth birthday this week!), from which to learn the terminologies used and the basics of various exams just sets my heart ablaze with passion for the field, for the children, and for the preservation of the sanctity of life.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Power of Friendship. The Bond of Medicine.

I've considered myself pretty lucky as I've grown up. Typically, as the "different" kid, I drew an extra special crowd. I remember my first friend in the first grade. Her name was Sarah, she had white blonde hair, and her eyes were as big as, well, I don't really know. But they were beautiful. And I was convinced, even in the first grade, that her eyes were big so that she could see the bigger picture.

Fast forward nine years. I'm sitting in a sophomore, high-school-level physical science class. You know, the one that combines physics and chemistry and was virtually the worst idea that has ever been established? Yeah. That one. One day, as I approached the front of the room (the lab tables were arranged in horizontal rows), I tripped over one of the table legs, and my teacher proceeded to freak totally out. Luckily, my family was really good friends with the school nurse. She was paged to the classroom, and all was well. I was perfectly fine, albeit a bit shaken. Then, about 15 minutes later, as I made my way back into the classroom, the overprotective teacher began to ask if everything was okay and if there was anything he could do. One thing he did, though, was something that changed my life forever, and for that, I will never be able to adequately thank him for nor accurately express to you. As soon as I walked back into the room, he had the front row seat ready for me. The young lady in the seat next to the one the teacher had picked out for me was someone I knew after having a science class together the previous year, but she was brilliant. So smart that I was afraid to strike up a conversation.

The next day, which was the first day with the new seating arrangements, we talked, laughed, and exchanged stories all throughout the class period. What I found about this amazingly brilliant young woman was that she wanted to be a doctor. She was so dedicated to her schoolwork that she often didn't make the time to have outings with her friends, but she was so eloquent that you'd never be able to tell that her nose's favorite view was the deep, black printed words on a textbook page.

I like to think I broke my friend of most of what she experienced in the way of obligation to her text and to her work. As we became fast friends, I discovered that not only did she want to be a doctor. She wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. Yes. My friend wanted to be a brain surgeon who operated on and saw children. I was more than fascinated by her drive, and her willingness to work as hard as it took shone through in whatever she did. That year, and really, every. single. year since. A short time after we became friends, my teacher had told me that he thought I would make a fabulous doctor. Shrugging at the idea, I knew it wasn't possible. You know, this guy's a science teacher. Which inevitably means he's a little off his rocker from the start, right?

Never really considering the idea, I shrugged it off. Teachers are supposed to encourage their students to aim high, so he was just doing his job. Right? My special friend asked if I needed help getting to class one day, and so I took her up on the offer. It was often in high school that I got fatigued from carrying all of my books and things around with me all day long. The building, just the one, is bigger than my college campus, so by the end of the day, I was sore and tired. Any energy conservation we could take advantage of was definitely welcomed.

As we walked through the pristine white hallways of the place I'm still trying to forget, we laughed. Like no two females have laughed before. We talked. Like there was no way we would finish a thought. No matter how hard we tried. The year progressed, and I was set. I knew that I would be a neurologist. Because my teacher told me I would need to subscribe to and begin reading and devouring "nerdy" material, I subscribed to Neurology Now, which is a magazine published for patients with neurological conditions as well as for their families. As a result of my having cerebral palsy, the subscription was free. It's a really, really neat read for doctors, med students, and interested parties.

Eventually, though, the doctor dream rolled off my back. There was no way in Hades I wanted to do math and science (and be nerdy about it!) for my entire life. There was just no way. So I stuck with the thing I was comfortable with, the thing that I knew for certain that I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to teach special education, so after breaking the news to my best friend, I did just that. In my senior year, I participated in an internship for students wanting to become teachers within our school system. Over the course of the year, I completed 300+ hours in two different special education settings, and I loved it. I was just over the moon.

I came into college as a special education major, and I was just so excited. Things happened, and I changed my major, in the middle of the semester, to English. But wait. The more rational side of me began to think a little harder. It's really hard to get a job with an English degree with career advancement without a graduate degree, and everyone knows I wasn't going to be in school forever. I just didn't have time.

Since I was still enrolled in the introductory education courses, I had to observe in a special education setting. Unfortunately, the only setting that was near enough for me to get to without the ability to drive was an early college experience that is funded for middle and high school students who are classified as low-income. Now that I think about it, that setting wouldn't have been bad, but I wanted something that had a little more to do with special education since that was the field that I had wanted so desperately to pursue. A good friend I've made since college is a music therapy major, and she leads sessions weekly for adults with developmental disabilities on campus.

Perfect! Just what I needed! While there, I discovered that I knew someone special. Read that story if you're interested.

After declaring a music therapy major, I began to realize that things had gotten a little too physical for my taste and abilities, regrettably.

All the while, my best friend was at another university in Big City, Georgia, studying biology and chemistry and taking on a fellowship with the biology department head at her school. Knowing this via Facebook, it was all I could do but be proud of her, love her, and admire her intelligence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Brian McMichael, McDoc, a resident physician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, found my blog and connected with me via Facebook and Twitter. Thus, the candle was list once more, and the flame was no longer smoldering, I knew. Without a shadow of a doubt. I am going to become a doctor.

This past weekend, I had the chance to sit down and have a nice phone conversation with my best friend about our goals in medicine. She is very well aware of my struggles with math and with science; however, she understands that successes are never discovered unless attempted. She also understands that for me, it's not about academics.

Our story is a story of the power of friendship and the strength of the bond of medicine, and I am the luckiest girl in the world to have such caring, understanding friends like my best friend!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cheers to a Happy Me

Welcome! You may have come here from my previous blog titled Empowering People and Changing Lives, and I want to welcome you aboard this new journey with me. At first, I had thought that it would be appropriate to write a closing to the blog, but I just can't think of anything poignant or compelling to write about an ending journey. The truth of the matter is that I couldn't be more excited about my journey, and it's all about the cheers to a happy me.

I wanted to introduce you to the situations and the circumstances that make me who I am. I hope to have a more elegant looking design applied to the blog in the near future, but just in case you're new, found me through Twitter recently, or would like an update, here is my current status. And here are the things that will lead me to cheers for a happy me.

I'm a pre-medical student and community health major at a small liberal arts college in Georgia. Yes, I know, a pre-medical student out of a liberal arts college is a rarity, but after all, variety is the spice of life! My passions include writing, music therapy, social media, disability awareness and advocacy, and of course, medicine.

One question you may have, however, is that of the way my interest in medicine developed.

I can answer truthfully and honestly that my interest developed at a very, very young age. You see, I was diagnosed with a very mild case of cerebral palsy (spastic hemiplegia) at the fairly young age of fourteen months old. As a result of an intraventricular hemorrhage that ocured at the age of four days old, I also have what's called hydrocephalus. Which means, if you're a med student, doctor, or medical professional, you know this, but it means that I have a shunt. And thankfully I haven't needed a revision (tubing replacement) in nearly 10 years! My passion, my drive, and my love for medicine extends far beyond my side of the table as a patient. My love for medicine is about people, about life, and about protecting the sanctity that is life.

Admittedly, I'm no good at math and science. There is no natural ability, but I have worked excruciatingly hard for every skill I have attained. I did earn the letter grade of a 'C' in my core math class this semester, but I had been away from math for almost a year at the time I took the course, so it was my own fault. Earning A's in math all through high school, I know that it was the fact that my mind was just out of the patterning of the course. For fall semester, I am enrolled in pre-calculus. While it sounds daunting now, I am excited. I am excited to be able to challenge myself in such a way that I understand that this is a stepping stone to get me into medical school, into a field for which I have so much passion that it is absolutely immeasurable.

In a conversation with my dad this evening, he revealed that he didn't believe that medicine was the right field for me. He thought that I wasn't "stacking the deck" in my favor by choosing to pursue something which requires skills that don't come natural to me. I feel certain that when my first two clinical years of medical school are complete, I will understand that the hard work that I put forth during my undergraduate degree has been worth it.

My parents, thus far, have been, in no way, shape, or form supportive of my pursuit of a career in medicine. Thankfully, though, my medical school friends on Twittee have provided me with the resource and the encouragement that I need to succeed and to ensure that things go smoothly. Math and science has never been so important to me. I will never view math and science the same again. It is my pathway. It is my tool, and it is my necessity to get to where I need to be in my career, in my destiny, and in my calling. It will be difficult to pursue this task without parental support; however, I am responding to a calling, to a desire, and to a longing to give back, to nurture, to enjoy, to love, and to protect the patients that I serve as well as the attendings, the residents, and the medical students with whom I come in contact.

So, as we embark on this journey, in which we will take pleasure in being those who are "healthy, unwealthy, and becoming wise," I invite you to join with me in shouting three cheers to a happy us!