Medical School, Trains, Roots, Oh My!

“As soon as I heard the knock, I pulled down my sleeves, to be sure the scratches and bruises on my arms were completely covered. “Come in,” I said. My primary care physician entered the room and greeted me warmly just as she had many times before. Over the years she’d come to know me and knew I had a spark in me and a bubbly, outgoing personality, which is why she knew that something about me was abnormal today. She went through the typical questions regarding my health and medications and then approached the more personal questions. “How is your job,” “how is your family,” “how are your relationships,” and “what’s going on in your current relationship?” I answered all with a shaky voice while I avoided eye contact. She finally asked the question, “Emily, why are you wearing long sleeves and pants in the middle of the summer- what are you covering up?” I tried to stammer out a response but instead began to cry and explain what had been going on. I trusted her and I knew I could confide in her. My appointment ended with my physician telling me that she would alert someone of the abuse at home if it continued, helping me form strategies to get out of the relationship and remove myself from the situation, and with her telling me to come and see her, call, or email whenever I needed- even if it was just to talk. My physician cared about me so deeply when I didn’t care at all; I knew that I was meant for medicine for two years at the time but now I knew exactly the qualities that I wanted to emulate as a physician.

Domestic abuse occurs far too often; training physicians to spot the signs of abuse as well as in the actions to take to remove someone from immediate danger, long-term harm and relapse could help stop or prevent many cases of abuse. The way that abusers often work is to isolate victims and remove their confidence and identity, forcing the person to rely solely on them for support. Shortly after being removed from my abusive situation and taken to the hospital for recovery, I found myself again with the person who had done me so much harm-going back to an abuser often isn’t a choice for victims because they have been broken down psychologically for so long. It took support from those who have been through a similar situation and all of my strength to get out again late in 2017. Just like a drug addiction, I had physically needed that person. The only way to stop an addiction is to get through the withdrawal and permanently stay clean. Battling aftermath of PTSD was difficult, but it forced me to be stronger than I ever thought I could be. I knew that I was meant to go into medicine and the thing that kept me pushing onward was knowing that this experience would allow me to touch the lives of my future patients. Because of the hope that medicine gave me, I studied for the MCAT every night after my time in the hospital while I battled PTSD and worked full-time in ophthalmology research regarding macular degeneration until I took the MCAT. My work, studies, primary care physician and future patients provided the reason for me to study harder, to cope better with my symptoms and to put more of myself mentally and physically into my research every day. I wanted to gain more autonomy in the lab and to think outside of the norm in order to make protocols more efficient and to question the current rationale regarding cellular mechanisms that respond to alu elements, particularly regarding the role of VEGF, which are implicated in macular degeneration.

I am currently living in Charlottesville, Virginia, volunteering at the Women’s Shelter answering the crisis hotline, working full-time in research and working part-time personal training at UVA. I wanted to give back to the community in a way that can make a real change, so by working with UVA and the Women’s Shelter, a non-profit organization for women in dangerous situations, I have started a class which teaches strength and mindfulness, specifically to victims of abuse or assault. The class provides a safe space for victims and imbibes physical strength, which, for me personally, and hopefully others, increases mental strength and mindfulness in times of distress.

If my own primary care physician hadn’t been supportive of me and caught the signs of abuse early on, I might not have been able to escape the situation. She changed my life and helped me heal as a complete person. I plan to use my own experiences as a survivor of abuse to help better all of my future patients by giving them someone to trust and know that they too can overcome the aftermath of abuse or assault. Because of my experiences, other victims can more readily confide in me and for this reason alone, I am thankful that I experienced what I did. There are many reasons why I aspire to be a physician such as a love for science and especially medical research, a predilection for high stress environments, and a passion for helping others, but my own primary care physician inspired me to use my personal experiences to better help others and to be a better physician than I could ever have been. I now want to help heal others not just physically but also mentally and emotionally and take on their burdens as my own to help them start the new chapter of their lives.”

This was my personal statement for my medical school application.

Controversial? Yes.

True and Real? Also yes.

This essay- like many things in today’s political climate- seems to be polarizing. People, including medical school admissions officers, either love or hate the person presented in this essay- it’s hard not to, right? You either identify with it or you don’t, and in today’s world you need to have a steadfast stance on life.

The reality is that it took me over a year of recovery to write this- if you’ve seen my previous posts, hopefully you know that I’m not a terrible writer- but exactly one year before I wrote this essay, I applied for the first time to medical school with an entirely different essay… posted below… I’ll let you read and analyze the differences before I comment- I can’t even read it because of how cringe-worthy it is, so, good luck.

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EXACTLY. Now you see what I mean, right?

images^My face reading my own work.

THIS is what PTSD and abuse look like- becoming something you don’t even recognize- becoming something you used to deem pathetic and hopeless- becoming hopeless and despondent.

I don’t need to go into the details as to how one essay is making the best of a situation while remaining determined and steadfast while the other is being made rather than doing the making- you can see that for yourself.

My point in this is that you don’t need to BE MADE by a situation- YOU NEED TO MAKE the situation. I would say that I wanted someone to tell me this when I wrote my first essay and applied to medical school for the first time, but I did have someone advise me on this- the thing is, you can’t learn from someone else’s mistakes- you have to make them yourself and learn.

I’ve seen this so many times in myself and in others. As a previous athlete with an eating disorder, I would not change until I learned my lesson myself- no matter how many counselors I saw- no matter who told me their own story- I continued my own pattern until life hit me like a train wreck and I had to learn myself. As a previous victim of domestic violence- no matter how many stories I heard- no matter what advice I was given- I could not change until I had to change.

1927-Roots-Theatre-Royal-Margate-web.png^People are rooted in their ways: the deeper the roots, the harder the train has to crash to break them.

The positive side to all of this is that you will change when life makes you change- maybe not in your own timing- maybe you’ll be pushed further than you wanted to be pushed- maybe your roots were more vast than you had imagined- but you will change when life comes at you. Humans are malleable- the hobbits we form and the roots we plant can grow as strong as we let them, but the train that is life doesn’t stop for anything- it might take a few attempts, but life will break the roots that enslave you or you’ll break.

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Maybe you don’t have the strength to break your own habits now, but life will make or break you, whether you want it to or not- so have the strength to hang on to life, and life WILL make you into the better person. If you don’t believe me, just look at the essays I wrote for medical school- life and time yield improvement- as long as you hang on to life.

So get ready to hang on for the ride of your life- just hang the hell on whether it’s by a thread or a whole rope.

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