My Fail-safe

World War II Memorial

Word War II Memorial

A couple of weekends ago, I embarked on a spontaneous road trip to Washington DC. Having just completed 3 months of surgery, the surgery shelf, and my Step 2 CS, there were areas of my life that felt a little repressed from the iron heel of medicine. Escape doesn’t even begin to describe what I craved.  My friends were gracious enough to cancel their last-minute plans and take me on a tour of the sites. However, I often felt a little at odds when touring all of the war memorials. A waterfall, a statue, or  slab of stone erected in commemoration of an individual who long ago sacrificed their life for a cause doesn’t seem to do the sacrifice any justice. Of course, there’s no adequate repayment for anyone that gives up their life for a principle, but, all the same, it still feels a bit hollow.

Washington Memorial

Washington Monument seen from the Lincoln Memorial.

Upon walking through the World War II Memorial, we unknowingly approached a gathering to recognize the anniversary of D-Day, that fateful day where exactly 71 years ago, thousands of free men stormed the beaches of Normandy in a seemingly impossible mission to overtake the Nazis in the hopes of liberating Northern Europe. Perhaps being enshrouded in those stone pillars, ceremonial canopies, and golden stars signifying deaths in combat with those that survived the conflict fostered a deeper sense of appreciation and breathed life into the past, elucidating the magnitude of what it was that was being memorialized.

Even as I sauntered through history in Washington, I failed to recognize my own past. Five years ago at this time also marks a personal milestone for me: the start of this blog. With the myriad of photos I’ve taken and books I’ve read and posts I’ve written, this creative offspring of mine has far outgrown its purpose of simply documenting the trials of one person tackling graduate and medical school, but developed into an outlet and haven for reflection and expression. It’s been my fail-safe, something I’ve reverted back to in both times of indecision and uncertainty and moments of anticipation and exhilaration. Five years strong, I never really imagined I would ever have so much to share or revel in. Shah Blah Blah was supposed to be just for me, really, but in the end, it became the better version of me, perhaps grittier and far more eloquent than I could ever be in real-time.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

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Pain and Prejudice

In the summer of 1904, a Grenadian embarked on a journey to Chicago to attend dental school. The student, Walter Clement Noel, upon arriving to the United States was plagued with health complications requiring his internist to perform a blood smear, a relatively new technique not frequently used in diagnosis. This gave rise to the first documented finding of sickle cell-shaped blood cells which was presented to the world in a case study in 1910.

Almost 100 years later, a Chicagoan receives admission to a graduate program in Grenada, only to complete a thesis on sickle cell and chronic pain in the country that gave birth to a man whose blood gave name to a chronic disease.

Herrick

Dr. James B. Herrick, credited with the first description of sickle cell disease, taught and practiced in Chicago, Illinois.

In science and research, life and circumstances often influence and shape your focus. A son who lost his mother to breast cancer is propelled to devote his energies discovering oncogenes. An impressionable college freshman is captivated by her professor and his research resonates in her own through the years. Inspiration can often be quite predictable. With me, however, someone with no prior exposure or bearings on any blood disorders, I have to believe that sometimes the research chooses you, a phantom deliberately lighting paths and dimming others, making you falsely believe your decisions are truly your own.

A little more than a century separate the opposite journeys that Walter and I took. And yet in that chasm of time, I’ve learned that just because we’ve given a disorder a name does not translate to a cure or even a standard global practice in managing the pain. My thesis helped me more than becoming a published primary author this past summer; it opened my eyes into seeing firsthand how medicine is much more than just biology, but also one part sociology, one part politics and policy, one part psychology, and even some parts geography. Continue reading

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Forty-five days lie between me and my Step One Board Exam. The Step One. But is it really my first step? Is it only a step? It’s beginning to feel more like a hop, skip, and a jump. Of course, I’ve taken many steps, some towards open doorways, some towards closed ones, and some towards paths where I had to fashion my own door out of a neatly framed window. With all the endless locating and relocating I’ve done in the past couple years, I feel like life is just one giant terminal, and we’re all just perpetually loitering until our next lift. While we wait, we’re inclined look into the future, and somehow that makes our present tense a little more homely and agreeable. But if you’re not wary, the past can sneak up on you, like a closet crammed with all the things you no longer have room for in your day-to-day life, springing open and saturating you with memories and mementos.
My Alma Mater

My Alma Mater

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An Ode to Grenada

In what could be one of the greatest satirical pieces of work, Catch-22, Joseph Heller once wrote:

What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying for.”

Heller was right. Surely, all countries cannot be worth dying for. Only those countries you choose to regard as your own. I wasn’t born in Grenada, but a part of me is certainly alive because of this island. Some might even argue it’s the most important part: the piece that nourishes your what-ifs and gives substance to your wishful thinking. On the night of my own departure, as I try to test out my own wings from the land that’s served as my nesting grounds on-and-off for the past several years, will I ever deem Grenada as my own

Some of my favorite shots of campus:

Only time can tell what Grenada will become to me as I continue my life elsewhere: a pit stop, a detour, or a makeshift home? Even more, what will I become to Grenada? An honorary citizen, or merely a temporary dweller, holding as much fondness for each other as a midnight traveler to a dingy motel room. Was Grenada merely a means to an end, or did it define a bigger purpose? All I know is that when I moved to a different country four years ago, nothing was harder than saying hello for the first time. As those years started turning into hours, it got even harder to say goodbye for the final time.  Continue reading

Same Same But Different

I’ll never forget the look on the woman’s face the first time I tried to say beautiful in Thai. I made sure I had the correct word. I recited it in my head. When it came time to turn thought into action, I was careful to enunciate. The woman’s jaw dropped, and she looked shocked. Clearly, this was not the response I was anticipating. I had called her chronically unlucky instead, a terrible omen, and I couldn’t even fathom as to how that had happened. She was the one who had taught me the word, after all.

The Bridge Over the River Kwai

The infamous bridge over the River Kwai where over 19,000 prisoners of war died building a railroad connecting Burma to Bangkok under the Japanese imperial rule during World War II.

As with most Southeastern Asian languages, tone and inflection carry equal bearing with pronunciation. On the Thai medical selective through St. George’s University last June, I found this out the hard way. While beautiful and unlucky are essentially the same word on paper and differentiated by contextual clues, tone essentially becomes your saving grace in Thai speech, signifying the difference between you literally riding a horse (kee maa) or shoveling horse excrement (kee maa). Apparently, picking up some Thai was not going to be as easy as I had imagined.

It wasn’t Thai, however, that confounded me when wandering the vendor-packed streets of Khao San Road, a major artery of Bangkok. Throughout the endless babel and litany of knockoffs that infested the street, it was a saying in Thai Slang in English that was heard more prevalently: Same same but different. Continue reading