Inspiration from Shadowing a Pulmonologist

Whenever I shadow, I find myself recognizing certain patterns and ingraining those in my head as universal. This habit has presented problems in disciplines like computer programming, where solutions are always novel, but lends me an advantage is relatively predictable biological systems. As implied earlier, shadowing and observation is an extension of studying and learning about biological systems, and using patterns to help treat patients. I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself a quick learner, but I’m observant and pick up most things fairly quickly. What occurs as a result, and what WAS the core of my despair, is a sense of boredom. There is great predictability in shadowing outpatient clinics.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very concerned for patients, but my heart didn’t seem to be in the work that was being done. I was worried that it was some offshoot of my nihilistic tendencies, or worse, a sense of apathy. It turns of that neither of these were true. I just wasn’t inspired. I knew the significance of the medical work being done, but I didn’t really KNOW it, if that makes sense. It’s akin to realizing that we’re all going to die when I should be REALIZING THAT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, the second portion of the sentence representing not just the knowledge of the truth, but the appropriate reaction.

That lack of inspiration made for less-than-compelling medical school statement letters. In fact, the truth of the matter was not that I was being hypercritical of my work, but that my work lacked personal spark and something that was completely unique to me that I knew better than anyone else in the world: My mother’s medical situation.

It’s a common phenomenon we see around the globe. Social media and Snapchat stories bursting with cute dog pics and people laughing, alternating with footage of violence and beheadings in war-torn countries. While the aforementioned social media content is obviously important, the more important point is that people far away from crises completely sedate themselves to what is going on. Constant exposure to wars and violence in the media mean that people become desensitized to the true horror and the nature of war. Likewise, living with my mother growing up desensitized me to the struggles she has always been through regarding her respiratory health.

My mother’s respiratory health is atrocious. She suffers from chronic bronchitis, polyps, a deviated septum, post-nasal drip and all the other shenanigans associated with less-than-ideal anatomy and consistent strokes of bad luck. There are drainage tubes in her ears, holes drilled, inhalers, nebulizers, and everything under the sun. I myself suffer from the inherited deviated septum, through her bad luck hasn’t quite transferred through the X chromosome. While her attitude has always been sour (I do not exaggerate; she is always irritated. ALWAYS), it is justifiable by the suffering she experiences every day. I wake up in terror because my nasal airways get congested and I cannot breathe, and I have 1/100 of the issues she does. Despite this realization of her pain, our patience does occasionally run out and bickering begins, but I digress. The important thing to realize is that her grit is always on display and her condition doesn’t hinder it, but rather seems to add to it.

The mother’s early interactions with her child shapes their relationship. This is well-known across developmental psychology. The fact that her attitude is altered by her condition means that virtually everything that she has taught me has been influenced or twisted in some way by her condition. My flaws, my personality, my everything, can be attributed to slightly out-of-shape cartilage and some extra snot. This revelation is significant, as it influences generations to come.

I was only able to realize this when I shadowed an extremely gracious pulmonologist. Assuming that I was in for a similar shadowing experience, yet determined to siphon what knowledge and understanding that I could, I walked in to see the first patient. They began talking, and this chill ran down my spine. Allergies, Combivent, Advair, bronchitis, wheezing? This was basically my mother talking. The pulmonologist called in a nurse to explain how to use the Advair Diskus, and with shock I realized that I knew exactly how to use it and what would happen. Memories of my mother using Advair flooded me: the puckered cheeks, the strained expression, the rush of air, and the horrible, inevitable coughing fit. That was when I realized that this was what I wanted to pursue. My desire to help my mother and all of these people just like her manifested. I realized the significance of medicine, and how much quality of life affects children and families, the way it has affected me.

I swore from that day on that I would double my studying efforts, and having grown as an individual, I consolidated my motivation for being a physician. I realized how my philosophy should be oriented, and I was able to achieve clarity. While that personal statement has yet to be written, I have no doubt in my mind what I intend to write about.