The Silence

The following is a post I wrote in medical school that I never published.


“C’mon,” my resident called out to me, “Let’s go do something.”

“Ok,” I replied as I half-jogged to catch up with her.

It was a slow night in Labor & Delivery. I wasn’t doing much. Most of the patients I saw that night during Night Float (shift from 5:30 PM – 7:00 AM) were patients in triage with various complaints. Most were women who had been feeling contractions that day. I think most were sent home that night because they weren’t yet in labor. (Labor is defined as contractions plus cervical change. Since they had contractions without dilation of their cervix, they were not going through active labor.)

The resident and I walked to triage. The nurses had told us that there was a patient in triage who was still in the early part of her 2nd trimester. She came in complaining of decreased fetal movement. The experienced ones on the unit didn’t think much of it. They wondered if she had even felt movement before this time as it was early in the pregnancy. But the patient was here; and so we went to see her.

As we walked into the room the nurse was trying to find fetal heart tones with the handheld Doppler Ultrasound device. (A Doppler Ultrasound is a handheld device that allows one to hear the fetal heartbeats.) She muttered something about the equipment in the room not working, about her doppler’s battery running out. She could not pick up any heart sounds; her probes were met with silence. This should have been my first warning sign. The nurse then left the room to allow us to do our exam.

Our patient was lying in her hospital bed. Her husband stood by her side. Their toddler sat in a chair, amusing himself with a toy. The patient explained to us that she understood it was early to feel movement. But she had started feeling movement a couple weeks ago. However she noticed that it was significantly less a few days ago. That day, though, she had felt none. She wondered if it was just because she wasn’t noticing it. After all, we often advise expectant mothers to sit still in a quiet place when they try to do “kick counts” because it is easy to block the movement out when the baby is still small.

The resident fired up the ultrasound machine and started probing. She was going to try to assess for fetal heart rate since the nurse hadn’t been able to with the Doppler.

“There’s the head,” she said as she pointed it out on the screen. She continued moving the probe around, sliding it over the jelly-covered belly. I thought I recognized the chest wall, but I was so bad at looking at ultrasound images that I didn’t think much of it when the resident kept moving.

“I usually find it really quick. But maybe the baby is turned away,” she told the couple. Again, throughout the ultrasound, only silence.

My resident then turned to me, “Can you call Dr. A on the unit? She might be better at this.”

Dr. A was our senior resident — less than a year away from becoming an attending. It made sense that she would be better at this. But this was also my second warning sign.

I left the room, but instead of getting on the phone, calling the unit secretary, and asking for Dr. A, I ran to the unit myself. I didn’t want to waste time. Besides, since I didn’t know the unit’s extension, I figured I could run to Dr. A faster than I could call.

When I returned with to the room with Dr. A, she politely introduced herself and replaced the resident at the ultrasound machine. She took her turn at the machine. Within a minute, though, she turned to the resident and quietly asked her to page the attending physician on call. And there, accompanying the silence, was warning sign number three.

The resident and I walked out. She paged Dr. B. In the hospital, they don’t like paging the attending unless absolutely necessary — especially when it is at night.

I was surprised at how fast Dr. B came. I remember thinking that the call room must be really close.

Dr. B, the resident, and I walked into the patient room. Dr. B introduced herself as the supervising physician and took over for Dr. A at the ultrasound machine. After a little bit she turned and asked us to turn the lights back on.

“I’m sorry,” she began as she looked at the patient and her husband, “there is no heartbeat.”


I don’t know if I still remember the mother’s face. I think I do. But it isn’t a very clear picture in my head. I didn’t want to stare as the tears started streaking down her face so I looked away. It was tough. Labor and delivery is usually a unit of such joy. The patient’s are generally young and healthy. They leave with brand new bundles of joy.

But that night, instead of joy and new life, I came face to face with silence.


Three Wishes (published on The Differential)

The following is a post I wrote during medical school.


Questions are powerful. They stimulate thought. They encourage discussion. And sometimes, they do so much more.

During my time on the Adolescent Psychiatry unit, one of my favorite questions to ask my patients was “if you had 3 wishes, what would you wish for?” or some variation thereof.

It’s not an exact science. But I felt like the question gave me a little bit of an insight into their minds. I had frequently heard the child psychiatrists ask this question of the tiny tots. I didn’t hear them ask this of the adolescents. I’m not sure why.

I remember one patient telling me that one of his 3 wishes included destroying the place we were in. As far as I could tell, I took this answer in stride. I asked him why and he admitted that he didn’t feel like the facility was very helpful. He just wanted to get out of there and go home. A couple days later, when I asked him again, I was glad to hear him say that he had changed his mind. He realized that value of the psychiatric unit and didn’t want it torn down and destroyed anymore.

Another patient told me of her wish to buy her mother a big house. It’s probably safe to assume how and why a wish like this would begin to take hold in the mind of a young person. Other teens also voiced their own desires for material items.

Regardless of the wish, big or small, I felt like it was a backdoor into understanding a little bit more about my patient. And in psychiatry, you take whatever you can get — at least that’s how I felt about it.

What happened to me, though, was that I began to look introspectively. I would like to think this sort of thing happens more often than not to students rotating through psychiatry. I began to think about what I would wish for if I were given 3 wishes. In fact, I was pretty much forced to think about it for myself when one of the patients turned the question back on me after he had answered the question himself.

If I remember correctly, I think I answered that I wished 1) to be done with my schooling and 2) for a lot of money. I told him I’d save the 3rd for later. He thought it was clever. But in looking at my first two wishes, I realize that I’m not that much different than the patients I was seeing. I seem to want physical and financial freedom just as much as they do. I just word it a little bit differently.

And that’s how one little question helped me feel closer to the patients I was seeing each day.


It’s Over, But Not Really

It is now just over a week since I marched at my Commencement ceremony and received my diploma. Yes, the actual diploma was inside the folder — which is very exciting since all my previous diplomas (college and high school) had to be mailed to me once the financial office had decided that I no longer owed the school any money.

I suppose that this is officially my first post as an MD. I am now a graduate. I now can tack on the suffix M.D. to my name. I remember just one day after graduation I sat staring at my diploma. As I stared at it, I almost could not believe it was in front of me. I looked at the piece of paper — a sheet of paper that has been the most expensive (physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally) paper I have ever earned.
During the days prior to graduation, I remember feeling excited. At the same time, I also felt nervous. Nervous about being done. Nervous about new responsibilities. Nervous about wearing the long white coat I have wanted ever since I looked into the mirror and saw how ridiculous my short white coat looked. I am now waiting for my long coat. Literally. I sent an email to the Graduate Medical Education (GME) office a few weeks ago with my size. I hope I sent in the right size. Again, I am excited. But again, I am nervous about the long white coat and all the responsibility it represents.

I have a few more weeks before residency starts and I step onto the wards as a new intern. During this time I will have to complete some online modules and get certified for Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). I will also complete my move into a new place. It is a few weeks that I know will go by very quickly. Actually, I feel like the next few years will go quickly, but I don’t really want to think about that at this point.

And so, my medical school career is over. One chapter is completed. But I know that I am far from the end. Medical training continues at the next stage — residency. I know, too, that it will continue long after I leave residency. Medicine, as they have taught me throughout medical school, is about lifelong learning. In the grand scheme of things, I am still at the beginning. I have “leveled up,” but I’m still at a very low level.

I have a long way to go. I know the road ahead will be hard. But it’ll be full of adventure, I’m sure.

I will continue to blog here. For those of you who have been following my journey thus far, I hope you stick around.


Film & Medicine

Aside from my pathophysiology paper that was due last Friday (which I need to start finish sometime today), I am done with that two week elective.

Tomorrow I start another two week elective. It’s called “Film & Medicine.”

I’ve gotten some wide eyes when I tell people that I’m going to be spending the next two weeks doing an elective called “Film & Medicine.”

From the course syllabus:

Because film encapsulates narrative efficiently, this seminar screens and discusses feature films which focus on stories about medical care. Films are chosen that explore the humanity of both physician and patient as prominent components of quality health care.

There looks to be quite a few interesting films scheduled to be viewed this year. In addition to the films, we have to write a 2-3 page paper and read the John Irving book The Cider House Rules.

Here are the list of movies:

I’m pretty excited about this class. It should be fun.

Oh, I am going to miss fourth year when it ends.


Death Is Hard

In the past I have found it easy to say that it is harder to see a sick, hospitalized child than a sick, hosptitalized elderly patient. It is easy to reason that the senior citizen has lived a full life while the child has his future ahead of him. But I think this position ignores the viewpoint of the patient’s family. Sure, sometimes a family is prepared for the death of a dying grandfather who has lived a long life and is going out on good terms. But few are ever prepared for a tragic death that comes on suddenly — no matter what age it happens.

Recently I saw a patient who I shall refer to as Mrs. B. We were not the primary team. I saw her as a consult after she had been in the hospital for a rather extended period of time. At the time the consult came in the team was pressed for time so we split up the duties. I would go and talk to the patient while my colleague would put together a consul note summarizing the hospital course and patient’s past medical history using the patient record as a source.

Without reading anything about the patient I went off to find Mrs. B. All I knew about her was that she had been hospitalized for quite some time and that she was fighting an infection that had spread to the blood. As I walked up to her bed she lie silently with her eyes open. I asked her how she was doing but couldn’t make out what she was saying. I tried to ask her in Spanish but she only responded with a more excited mumbling sound.

I realized that I wouldn’t be able to take a history from her. That sort of thing is difficult in non-communcating patients. So I proceeded to perform a quick physical exam. I noticed scleral icterus (jaundiced, yellow eyes) and a few skin wounds. But nothing else really jumped out at me. I left, but not before looking over her chart and collecting her vital signs for the last 24 hours.

When we began rounding our attending began writing out Mrs. B’s information across the large white board that hung in the workroom. Everything we had been able to find from the review of the patient record went on the board. We dissected and discussed the details and the big picture. And, after almost two hours, our attending decided it was time to go and see the patient.

We paused at Mrs. B’s door to pull out some gowns. A nurse ran up to us and whispered, “She just died. The family is inside.” And, while looking at the nearest clock she added, “She died about an hour ago.”

I was shocked. I didn’t know what to think. I had just seen her and touched her just over two hours ago. And now she was gone. At the time I saw her, I had no idea how sick she was. And my physical exam didn’t tell me she was so close to death. During our discussion, though, our attending noted how bad her labs looked and that she would probably benefit from palliative care.

I don’t know how the family took her death. I didn’t go inside the room. I didn’t come back later. To me her death was sudden. I was not expected it so soon. But death, it seems, waits for no one. When it’s time, it’s time.

It is hard to care for sick children in the hospital. But I think it can also be hard to care for sick adults who face tragic endings as well.

Death is hard. Period.



I used to say that I am immune to tears. I grew up with a baby sister. I saw many tears. And admittedly, some were caused by me.

But I have realized that I am not as immune to them as I thought.

I am only immune to some of them. The kind that are manipulative. You know the kind. The kind that flows like a never-ending river when a child is not getting his or her way. The ones that go along with the sad, puppy-dog eyes that beg for you to give in. These kinds of tears I can handle. I can laugh at them because I will not be manipulated like that. I refuse.

But then there are the other kinds of tears. The tears that flow due to deep, heart-breaking pain. I realized this for the first time when I stood in a patient’s room. The patient lay in the bed, sedated by medications. The attending stood in front of me, trying to explain the circumstances to the family members.

I remember seeing the tears. I also remember hearing the guttural, almost-primal screams of agony and despair. The words they cried out weren’t even in English. But pain needs to translating. Theirs was a pain borne from unexpected outcome. The patient had been discharged home just days before. That night I had worked on the admission and, with the help a translator, been able to communicate with the patient. But over the course of 10 hours the patient had deteriorated and pain and anguish was what was left in the room.

I physically removed myself from the room. I had seen sad situations many times before but this one got to me. I could feel my eyes start to water. My throat got tight. The air was thick and heavy. I needed to take a few breaths.

I used to say that I am immune to tears. I cannot anymore.


How Do You Like Loma Linda?

How do you like Loma Linda?

Over the course of this interview season, this is a question that I have been asked numerous times. The person asking me really doesn’t care whether or not I like the city of Loma Linda. The implied question is whether or not I like Loma Linda University School of Medicine. The question is one that has been asked by fellow interviewees. It’s not unusual. While waiting in a room full of interviewees, conversation usually starts out with asking each other what school one is from. This question is usually followed by a “how do you like it there?” question. Invariably, the answer is positive — or at least neutral.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard an applicant say they didn’t like the school they came from. And for some reason, I somehow doubt that anyone would admit to disliking their soon-to-be alma mater — at least not while on the interview trail.

So how do I like Loma Linda? I like it very much. I think medical schools are more similar than different. We learn the same material. We take the same national exams. Sure, each institution offers their twist on how the material is presented, but the material is the same.

One thing that is different here is Loma Linda’s emphasis on Whole-Person Care. The curriculum is designed to not only emphasize the physical pathophysiology, but to also highlight aspects of spiritual care as well. I feel like I have been encouraged to go beyond the diagnosis — to treat the patient and not just the disease.

I have accepted that I attend a medical school whose name does not carry the weight of an ivy league establishment. I have become accustomed to puzzled looks when I say that I go to Loma Linda University. Many people outside the area have never heard of this place. Saying I attend a medical school in Southern California usually gets guesses of UCLA or USC. But once in a while I do come across people who have heard about Loma Linda.

On a recent interview, a program director in another state noted my educational pedigree. Glendale Adventist Academy for high school. Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University) for my bachelor’s degree. Loma Linda University for medical school. “You must be a Seventh-day Adventist,” he said to me. He continued, “we like students from Loma Linda. Do you realize that your ethics curriculum is more extensive than most other schools?”

On another interview a resident asked me what school I came from. When he heard I was from Loma Linda he said that it was plus for me since the program liked Loma Linda students — they’re usually a really nice group of people.

It was nice to go outside of the this insulated, geographical area where everyone knows of Loma Linda University and hear other opinions of my home institution from people who have no incentive to say anything nice about it. Or maybe it was just a little bit of validation that I appreciated hearing.

So how do I like Loma Linda? Evidently, I like it very much.