Monday, September 10, 2018

The dive...

As I step into the blue stretched out around me, there is a peaceful intensity.
There is just the sound of breath echoing through a device, filling this sacred space.
So few people have the chance in their lifetime to venture into this mysterious realm. It is a terrifying privelege to be here.
To do this -  to be here - requires study, dedication, and fearlessness. As I step in, I feel the weight of this gear, this funny costume on my body,  gear which I rely on to keep me safe and alive here.
Time reigns supreme in this world.
Utter reliance on the clock, your partner in the blue, and the air supply.
Suddenly, inevitably, there is a moment of claustrophobia that washes over me as some part of my brain recognizes what is happening and feels inescapably trapped behind goggles and a mask that cover my mouth.
 “Breathe,” I say softly to myself.
 “Breathe,” says the whoosing echo of inspiration and expiration.
“Breathe,” says your partner/teacher/guide’s eyes as they stare into yours.
My focus sharpens and time disappears.
I am here.
My hands rest at my chest, in stillness, allowing everything to move around me like some unique choreographed dance that I join in, once appropriate.
And off into the depths of the blue we venture.


My reflections from week 1 in the operating room during my surgical rotation. The parallels between surgery and scuba diving were profound for me...

My attending physician told us before we started that if we feel like we are dizzy or going to pass out when we step up to the operating table, we needed to step away and leave the room immediately.
My first surgery, scrubbing in and standing at the sterile field, blue all around me, the scalpel piercing the skin of the abdomen releasing a slow ooze of bright red blood, I felt a swell of familiar anxiety - a mix of claustrophobia, fear, and somewhere deep down there, excitement for this journey into the unknown. I immediately thought I needed to leave, but quickly recognized the feeling. It is the exact feeling I get the first time I scuba dive on a trip. I know how to deal with that.
Breathe again.
Allow the focus to sharpen like the tip of a 10 blade..
And then it all opens up.

The OR is not for me. I am way too sensitive. Also, I came into medicine to interact with patients and there is something removed, stoic, and almost disengaged about the OR. Empathy feels absent. The patient is wheeled in, slightly sedated. Doctors, nurses, students and scrub techs gather around the bed and unceremoniously shout out roles, finals checks, supplies, patient identification and BAM the patient is injected with anesthesia and they are almost instantaneously under. Within moments, their eyes are taped shut, a drape is pulled over their face and suddenly they have become a bag of organs surrounded in sheets of blue paper, demarcating the sterile field, to be avoided like lava for those not scrubbed in, so as not to contaminate the field. Lights, camera, action - the patient’s body is opened and the exquisitely skilled surgeons go to work with their talented scrub techs who anticipate every move that the surgeon will make, every utensil needed. They swim through the room with deliberate, meticulous grace. Like a symphony - each musician plays his part. The crescendos of the surgery marked by increased intensity, rather than noise - which dulls to a hush. Though when it ends, there is no applause. There is no curtain call. The anesthesia wears off, the tape is ripped from the eyelids and a radio calls for transport.

Surgery is phenomenal, necessary, life saving. And 100% not why I just spent 7 years and $150,000 going to school. I honor it, I respect it, and I cannot WAIT for this rotation to be over.

This is not my photo... I grabbed it from google.
...But this is the blue of an operating room.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pause for Medicine

Note to self: DO NOT read these entries at any point over the next few years when you want to take a break from studying.

I just read this one:

And this one:

They were actually just on my notepad on this computer from 2011 and I opened the notepad to paste a screenshot of some histology I was studying and BAM got sucked into my past.

I found myself sitting here with a gaping jaw... slightly shocked and embarrassed like a child who suddenly wakes up having sleep-walked into the living room and pissed themselves. Standing there confused about how they got here and what is happening right now.

What the hell happened to my mermaid scales? What happened to that barefooted gypsy queen with wanderlust oozing out of my heart and stars in my eyes?

How did I get here to Pomona - literally the armpit of Los Angeles. The real big shitty. Studying for the most intense thing I could ever do? Memorizing disease etiology, clinical findings, treatments for hundreds of diseases I had never heard of and couldn't pronounce until the moment I hear it and suddenly need to know it like it's something I've known my whole life.

This is no joke.

I'm in my first week of this program and I can't actually comprehend how all this information that I am staring at in a pile that is just enormous could possibly fit inside my head at the end of these two years.
I will actually BE a PA in two years. And then I will go back to taking adventures around the world and falling in love with humanity and squeezing the nectar out of this life like I used to.

So for now - I guess I just hit the pause button on everything and anything in my life and just bury my head into these books. Continue to try to drink water out of this fire hose...


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Para la gente...

I'm sitting in my room in Cordoba, Argentina at the tail end of my fifth week living here, reflecting on this country while listening to this song: El Angel de la Bicicleta

I am from a country who quotes one of our leaders saying that our nation is "of the people, by the people and for the people." I was raised to believe that this is true. We are taught in school that we live in the best country in the world... one that has freedom and opportunity beyond measure compared to the rest of the world. The US is definitely great, and there's nothing like catapulting yourself half way around the world (as I do often) to look back with perspective and recognize what you have and how lucky you are to have it.

I can't tell you how many times I've come home to hot showers, clean streets, and a functional government and thought to myself how lucky I am. I recognize my incredible privilege having been born in California and I don't take it for granted one bit. However, these past five weeks have really brought that privilege into perspective and been weighed against human rights - for instance the right to healthcare, education and clean water... all of which are lacking in the amazing country that I am from.

Argentina is phenomenal.

Without doubt there are problems in all of these sectors - education, healthcare and sanitation - here in Argentina... but they are available and free to everyone regardless of how much money you have or what area you live in.

I work at a hospital with incredible doctors who went to medical school for free and practice exceptional medicine at a free hospital. They fight and strike when there are murmurs of privatizing our hospital. They are FOR THE PEOPLE.

Argentina has turned out some incredible warriors for the people.... Che Guevara, Peron, Pocho Lepratti (for whom El Angel de la Bicicleta is written)... People here are committed deeply to one another. There is no doubt in the minds of the Argentines that you take care of your fellow man and provide for them. The medical system is based around this.

I am so moved by this nation and the people within it. I love Argentina.

Lyrics for El Angel de la Bicicleta:
(this badass warrior of the people stood up to the police and said, "¡Bajen las armas  que aquí solo hay pibes comiendo!"  - Put down your weapons... only boys are here eating... He stood up to the police and died for it. This song honors his fight and people listen to it with such passion and gratitude. It inspires me to no end.)

Cambiamos ojos por cielo 
sus palabras tan dulces, tan claras 
cambiamos por truenos 

Sacamos cuerpo, pusimos alas 
y ahora vemos una bicicleta alada que viaja 
por las esquinas del barrio, por calles 
por las paredes de baños y cárceles 
¡Bajen las armas 
que aquí solo hay pibes comiendo! 

Cambiamos fe por lágrimas 
con qué libro se educó esta bestia 
con saña y sin alma 
Dejamos ir a un ángel 
y nos queda esta mierda 
que nos mata sin importarle 
de dónde venimos, qué hacemos, qué pensamos 
si somos obreros, curas o médicos 
¡Bajen las armas 
que aquí solo hay pibes comiendo! 

Cambiamos buenas por malas 
y al ángel de la bicicleta lo hicimos de lata 
Felicidad por llanto 
ni la vida ni la muerte se rinden 
con sus cunas y sus cruces 

Voy a cubrir tu lucha más que con flores 
Voy a cuidar de tu bondad más que con plegarias 
¡Bajen las armas 
que aquí solo hay pibes comiendo! 

Cambiamos ojos por cielo 
sus palabras tan dulces, tan claras 
cambiamos por truenos 

Sacamos cuerpo, pusimos alas 
y ahora vemos una bicicleta alada que viaja 
por las esquinas del barrio, por calles 
por las paredes de baños y cárceles 
¡Bajen las armas 
que aquí solo hay pibes comiendo!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Meat, cheese, bread, repeat.

I'm a vegan. I also don't eat wheat because it makes my stomach do all kinds of painful backflips. I'm basically screwed in Argentina... home of the biggest beef lovers on earth. People think I'm insane, but I'm used to that growing up being me.

I woke up to the smell of meat cooking in a slow cooker at 11:45am. I realize why they don't really do breakfast here. Nobody is awake! I left the party early last night and others stayed out until 7am. Argentinians eat dinner so late in the night - way past my bedtime - at 11pm or so and then dance the night away. I decided I wanted to walk around the city center and my hostess, Andrea told me that we are in the middle of the town... the city center has a microcenter which is mostly pedestrianized and bordered by the street where we live. The only thing is that I was going out walking at 2pm and they told me that everything would be closed. 

It reminded me of Toulouse, France when I went down to visit my friend Cary who was living there while I was living in London. I remember her telling me that in Toulouse, Sunday is the day you spend in bed with your lover. Nobody gets out of bed to go to work or to do anything really. Argentina seems to be similar although there were many people out and about, there was just nothing open. I found where all the people were... down at a huge park called Parque de Lastejas. People had these little easels set up everywhere that children could sit down and paint on for some amount of money. It was brilliant. I love seeing that. Some people were drinking wine, some were playing Pokemon Go like zombies, but for the most part, people were just sitting in little groups on blankets and talking to one another. I walked down a tree lined street and then up onto a bridge where I could see the museums and art in the park, the play structure where the kids were playing flanked by men holding these super tall sticks with multicolored bags of cotton candy hanging off of them, and the people all sitting together talking, laughing and just having a Sunday together. I guess here on Sunday you spend it with your lover, but you just get out of bed as opposed to those lazy Frenchies. :)

As I wandered around Cordoba and clocked nearly 15,000 steps, I saw that Argentines love their children - especially babies, and love their dogs - especially French Bulldogs and poodles, and LOVE their meat, cheese and bread. The only storefronts that were open were panaderías and heladerías. People seem to love ice cream too. Another no-go for me. It appears to me that people here are not particularly warm and friendly and embracing like in Mexico for instance, but rather they are just amicable and nice with an air of reserve and dignity. I must say though, my hostess Andrea is an exception to that as she is so warm and wonderful. I feel so lucky to be living with her. Maybe it just takes a while to break through to see the warmth beneath the cool exteriors.

I walked and walked aimlessly through the city occasionally referencing a map that my program director sent me in my welcome bag. I stopped into a bread store and bought a croissant and ate it because I figured with my choices of bread, cheese and meat - butter and bread won't kill me - although meat really might. I've never eaten red meat in my life and I actually don't think that my body would know what to do with it.

I pretty much fell in love with Argentina today though. People are stylish and beautiful and walk everywhere and love to be outdoors in the sun and seem to just enjoy life so much more than most other places. It's now 7pm and of course I am starving for dinner but my hostess won't be making any food until closer to 10pm - something that will comprise of wait for it... bread, cheese and meat. Guaranteed. Luckily she bought me all kinds of beans and rice and veggies and told me that her kitchen was my kitchen and that I should just make food for myself because I'm pretty sure the thought of cooking for me stressed her - and all Argentines - out.

So far so good. The food is obviously a big difference for me, but overall I feel like I am going to seriously love this country and this city!

Argentina día cero

Saturday Aug 6, 11:00am  - Day Zero

I just arrived in Argentina!

My very first South American adventure and sixth continent I'll explore.
I am sitting in the domestic terminal at Buenos Aires airport where I'll catch my connection to Cordoba... the city I will live in for 5 weeks and study primary care and social medicine while living with an Argentine family. My love, Carlos will come down in September and I will meet him in Buenos Aires for my sixth week in this country. We rented a little condo in the middle of downtown Argentina. My friend Pedro, who is an Argentinian medical doctor who is getting his PhD at UCSD and I work with on several projects, has told me where I should stay in BA and we followed his advice and booked on air b n b. This will be my first time air b n b-ing in a foreign country as well. Hey!! I'm in a foreign country!

Besides Mexico, which I go down to work across the border most weekends, I haven't actually left the country in a long time. (Long by my standards anyway). According to the faded stamps in my passport, my last international adventure was when I went to Honduras to work at a medical clinic for 5 weeks in December 2014/Jan 2015... That means I have been in America for a year and half which seems like a LONG time for me.

I feel a familiar greasy, wired, under-slept yet hyper aware and also floating in a weird state of consciousness after the 22 hours of travel to get here. I cannot wait to take a shower and lay down at my new house. I hope my host family is happy to just let me veg out and not make me tell them my life story because I don't know if my brain can do that much Spanish right this second... I can certainly get by and communicate and understand what I need, but at this point, I am just wiped out and don't know if a chit-chatty conversation is going to be a fluid as I would like it to be.

I feel like I totally underprepared for this Spanish accent which sounds much more like Portuguese than Spanish to my ear at this point, although I'm sure I will adapt soon enough.

My first impressions (although I've only seen two terminals in the airport) is that this place is cold and they love meat, bread and cheese, and they all speak like they are making love to the words as they swish out of their mouths. There is something very European about this place too... not just because of the mix of cultures as you always see in the extranjeros line of the customs hall at any major airport in the world. It is something else here. The way the Argentines dress and carry themselves... The countryside visible through windows... the light. It reminds me of England in a way but also France. I haven't put my finger on it, but I'm sure I will.

3:30am - technically DAY ONE

Just got home from a night out with my hostess, Andrea. Andrea speaks clearly and slowly but always in Spanish and we have gotten down with some cool conversations about international and local politics, service to humanity, healthcare and more. She was pretty nervous about what to cook for me so I told her that I would just cook for myself and made a bunch of beans and rice and veggies. I am comprehending about 70% which is great but definitely leaves some gaping black holes in conversations at times - or so I thought.

I keep on imagining what would happen if I thought I understood but really I wasn't getting it at all. I thought she invited me to come to a party with all her brothers and their wives outside of Cordoba but I wasn't totally sure. Maybe she was just telling me that she was going... 
I awkwardly asked again and went in and got dressed even though it was already 10pm and I was totally ready for bed. I have this "just say yes" travel mentality that has almost always proved to unlock amazing adventures for me so I had to just say sure and jump in her car. We drove for quite a while and pulled off at a gas station where she jumped in the back and her brother Sergio took the wheel. Watching Cordoba go by I realized that the Europeanism here is also accented by a Southeast Asia feel. There is a blatant disregard for the law and the rules and a laissez faire that you find in SEA and actually Mexico too. Many areas are falling apart and graffiti is everywhere.

We made a few more stops and then ended up in a countryside kind of area at a club for Lawyers that was hosting a birthday party for a friend. We walked around and every person there kissed me on the cheek instead of shaking hands and didn't even question who I was or why I was there.

We sat at a table with nine of us. Andrea, her brother Sergio, another brother and his wife who was an amazing dancer and didn't stop shimmying even when we were sitting still, Andrea's cousin and his pregnant girlfriend who is a school teacher and teaches English, Andrea's other brother who runs a Malbec vineyard and hooked us UP with the most amazing wine, and his girlfriend of 11 years who he hasn't married because they don't believe in marriage. Everyone chatted in the swishy, beautiful way that Argentines do. "Zsho" instead of "yo" and the rest of the sentence just tumbles together like softened meat falling off a bone. 

Maybe it is just this family and their group of friends, but the impression I got throughout the night is that there is not really such a machismo man's world kinds vibe here. The men were all understated and just kind of holding the space for the women to be the bold, beautiful, shining lights in the room.

It made me think of Eva Peron and I wondered if that was a cultural thing or maybe just a coincidence, but the women here are strong and fierce and funny and loud and uninhibited and it inspires me to no end!

After a few hours of sitting and talking and eating and drinking, a man and women wearing these traditional looking Andean clothing - that looked Peruvian by looking at Carlos' photos from the region - walked through the room with a bowl smoking and another bowl full of herb looking things. They handed out the herbs - which I believe are sage and had everyone stand in a circle and put the sage on the burning coals causing a crazy smoke bath throughout the whole hall. Pregnant women and children covered their mouths and ran outside, but everyone else watched as the couple started doing this dance with scarves... First big scarves, then they switched to small scarves and then handed out scarves and flags to everyone in the room to swing around and dance to. I had NO idea what was going on but one of Andrea's brothers explained to me that this was a Pachamama celebration. It's a folkloric Bolivian earth mother celebration. He pulled up the Wikipedia page for Pachamama and showed me. I tried to skim it in Spanish but the Malbec was making my brain swim so I just got the gist and danced around with everyone instead.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Arrivals and Departures

I love airports and hostpitals.
I know.
NOBODY likes airports and hospitals. But I really do.

I'm sitting in Seattle airport just kind of vibrating with the hum of humanity. People complaining, laughing, scurrying, sitting. Everyone's feet are moving. Whether angrily or lazily tapping feet while waiting for a delayed flight or a long Starbucks line to move, or bags to arrive, or an airport employee to respond to a question or request... or boots clicking on the long walkways, clip clopping down coordidors with urgency so it sounds like horses running or a newborn baby's heart beating on the monitor before the mom goes into labor (a sound I heard two days ago while at the hospital waiting for my baby niece Anya to make her appearance and blow my heart open). People in an airport are moving, going somewhere or else waiting to move or coming from somewhere.

Arrivals and Departures.

I guess that's what I love. The coming and going - the rhythm a traveler dances to.

Two days ago my niece arrived and two days ago a wound on my grandmother's leg became infected and took over her body. Grandmere was raised Christian Science and has never taken medicine in her life. She refused treatment at the hospital, ripping out her IV lines, vomiting and hysterical. I think this might be the start of her departure.

My Aunt Lauren showed Grandmere photos of baby Anya - her first great-grandchild. The circle of
life is just so intense.
But when I step back I remember that it's all just arrivals and departures and I love that.
I love the human condition... that's why I am studying medicine and spending my life striving to be of service to people who are struggling... that's why I'm a traveler... that's why I'm an eternal gypsy who's always ready to go wherever the go is.

Yesterday my sister was in post-partum in the hospital with her little baby Anya. She hated it and couldn't wait to get out of the hospital. I didn't want to go. I didn't want her to go either. I love hospitals and I loved being there with the baby... in the lap of wisdom. Babies are pretty scary. They're so tiny and innocent and totally dependent on us grown ups.
Their arrivals are so magical.

I love the buzz of the hospital. People committed to being of service dancing around gracefully and elegantly amongst the storm of pain and chaos of suffering patients. People are born and die in the hospital. In and out. Ephermerality seems to loop in an eternal rhythm.

We shall see how long my Grandmere holds on, but regardless of how long it is - I feel as though she has printed her boarding pass and will be departing at some point in the near future. Afterall, time is just relative and we're all just floating somewhere between our arrival and our departure.

Thursday, March 3, 2016



I used to think that these things were giant paintbrushes.

I only saw them in beautiful places, like along the Big Sur coastline.  Beautiful backdrops that look painted on the sky. So of course it made sense to me that there should be a paintbrush near by.
Whoever the artist is, was hard at work creating the masterpiece we see when we take a minute and sit back inside ourselves... take a deep breath and take it in.

I spent the last day of 2015 driving down the California coast from my parents' house in Carmel to our home in San Diego with Carlos. It just kills me. It really and truly blows my mind that this is where I was born.

I've been just so so so many places. So many BEAUTIFUL places. 
...The idyllic palm tree packed islands of southeast Asia. Palms so crowded they bow towards the crystal blue waters as if leaning down to take a sip of the beauty and cool off from the equitorial humidity. 
... High in the himalayas where ice capped mountains jet out above simple but profoundly beautiful landscapes adorned with tattered, multi-colored prayer flags and yaks.
... Volcanic land where fire and ice meet in an eerie rhythm in Iceland
... Tanzania, The Maldives, Caribbean Central American islands, Hawaii, Thailand, Japan, the whole West coast of Australia, the English countryside, the rolling hills of North Wales, the South of France... the list goes on and on.
I've been there. First hand. I've seen astounding beauty and yet the Big Sur coastline takes my breath away every time.

How could a coastline be so beautiful?

This was the end of 2015.
A roadtrip with my love.
A leather Indiana Jones "adventure hat" my sister bought me for Christmas.
Running my fingers along the paintbrushes while looking out at literally hundreds of humpback whales swimming gracefully, spouting water into the sky and undulating in the blue waters.

2015 was a tough year. A beautiful year, but challenging.

I brought in 2015 in Honduras while working at a medical clinic and local hospital.
I came home and began my last semester at Mira Costa before starting UCSD.
I went to Canada for the first time and loved it!
During the summer months, my parents moved from San Diego back to Carmel, which was hard for me. I felt like a chunk of my support system had been removed.
But I still had my close friends who I had skype and email relationships with, and distance didn't take that away. But death did.
Birdie's death in September came down on me like a wall of bricks that crumbled and broke me in pieces. I started UCSD a few weeks later and have done my best to hold it together but it's been incredibly painful for me.
I started working in Tijuana, Mexico at a clinic for a really underserved community over the border every other weekend and then I spent the winter break in Carmel, San Fran and Napa and headed down the coast on new years eve to spend with my Tawney in LA.

My year wasn't painted exactly the way I had wanted it to be painted. There were more dark shades of blue than I had expected, but I guess that's the beauty of life and this lifelong canvas we are painting. It's up to us to bring more light to the canvas.

And so... meditation. Focus on light. Breathe it in... Send it out.