Closer Than Ever Before

white coat class (2)Last year, as I stood in front of adoring parents and friends during the White Coat Ceremony, I paid no attention to my white-clad classmates surrounding me. To me at that time, that was all they were — classmates. I knew I would sit with them in class and study with them. But I didn’t know that I would get much, much closer.

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Hiding away our bacteria

This past week, we had our 2nd microbiology lab, and for this lab, we were required to obtain samples from a classmate and streak them onto agar plates. Sounds simple enough…except that they were samples from our classmates’ throats and noses. Yes, we had to lift up the front of someone’s nose, stick a long wire into a nostril, twist the wire around a bit, and smear the contents. Afterwards, we sat with our mouths wide open as a classmate stuck a long Q-tip inside. I gagged (literally, as my tonsillar pillars were swabbed). But this wasn’t where we all started.

It all began in first year, when we had physical diagnosis labs. We learned physical exam techniques and practiced them on each other in small groups. Coming into our first lab on measuring blood pressure, we didn’t know what to expect. The least we knew was not to measure over clothes. Since men were required to wear professional long-sleeve, button-up shirts for lab, they had to take their shirts off to expose their arms. This was the start.

Later that year, for physio lab, we placed EKG leads on a classmate’s bare chest and watched his heart rhythms get recorded. For our cardiac and lung labs, we donned hospital gowns to practice ultrasound techniques, chest auscultation, and lung percussion on each other. For abdomen lab, we pressed deep into each others’ livers and spleens to check for enlargement. For ENT lab, we looked into each others noses, mouths, and ears and massaged each others’ necks to look for enlarged lymph nodes. For eye lab, classmates were close enough for our noses to nearly touch as they leaned in with their ophthalmoscope to look at my retina.

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In many ways and after every day, I get closer to my classmates. We sit almost shoulder to shoulder in class, share many fears and tears, lend sweaters and scarves in AC-cold classrooms, and save extra burritos for each other. We’ve come so far from our first day in our white coats. My classmates aren’t just classmates anymore. They’re my friends, confidantes, colleagues, and fellow practicing physicians-to-be. And they’re going to be taking great care of people like me.

 

Keep Your Head Up

This week I found myself with my head down a lot. As I was walking to class, my head was down previewing notes for that day’s lectures. As I sat in class, my head was often down scanning my notes and seeing what I needed to write down, underline, or highlight. As I sat in lab for Microbiology, my head was down as I worked on culturing bacteria onto blood agar. As I would eat my meals, I had my head down as I caught up on my friends’ latest Instagram posts or checked items off of my ever growing to-do list. As I would sit at my desk for most of the afternoon and evening, my head was down learning about bacterial endocarditis, loading doses of medications, and the life cycles of tapeworms that I was imagining were inhabiting my GI tract. At the end of each day, I would kneel by my bedside as I had my head down to pray, relieved that I had made it through yet another day of second year, yet exhausted by its activities. Everywhere I seemed to look with my head down was something that I had to do, needed to learn, or should have already accomplished. To say the least, it was a bit discouraging.

However, on Wednesday morning, as I had my head down reading my Bible, something began to change. I had been studying the book of Hebrews during my devotional time and I had finally arrived at chapter 11 ー the faith chapter. As I poured over each verse, I was enamored with these Biblical icons like Moses, Abraham, Jacob and Noah who, in great faith, lifted their heads up above their circumstances to find strength and hope in something much greater their own. I was reminded of the fact that leading the children of Israel through the desert or building a giant boat for your family and lots of animals was only manageable and possible by keeping their heads up, focused on the promise that God was providing them with something better than what this world could offer. Mostly, I was convicted that in the midst of all this time that I had spent with my head down, I had not looked up enough to see the ultimate strength and joy that is found in Jesus.

As the week progressed, I began to keep my head up a little more. When I did this, I was able to see evidence of my Savior. I saw the beauty of community as I ate lunch with friends in the sunshine, catching up on each other’s lives. I saw camaraderie in my classmates as they encouraged one another to keep working hard. I saw the sunset on Friday evening, bringing His promise of rest.

It is my prayer that we keep our heads up as we progress throughout the journey of medical school. God has great things for us to see.

Wrestling With a Patient


image credit from jesuslivesinmyheart.tumblr.com


“Lord, I pray that you would help me see my patients the way you see them.” This is a prayer that I prayed from time to time during my junior year. Just recently, I have been reminded of this prayer by a friend and it turned out to be tremendously helpful in processing one of my more difficult patient encounters.

A patient with a genetic disease presented to the ED with pain, which is a fairly common symptom of her disease. She frequently visits the ED requesting IV analgesics and would attempt to leave with IVs in place. This time, she did the same thing again. There was concern that she may be addicted to opiates and intended to keep her IV for drug administration, so I went to her bedside and tried to understand her thoughts. After I listened to her thoughts, I explained the causes of her pain, the need to learn ways to manage and prevent pain, and the importance of following up with her primary physician. She became less guarded and tearfully shared that she felt no one really cared about her. She eventually agreed to have her IV taken out and go to follow up visits. With satisfaction, I gave the attending the good news and brought back the discharge papers. However, the patient changed her mind and refused to have her IV taken out again. She insisted that her pain is not better and if she was not going to get IV morphine, she would re-admit herself or go to a different ED. I explained we could not give her what she requested and she could not keep her IV, so she said she was going to pull out the IV herself. She had an external jugular IV placed because she was a hard stick, so out of concern for an air embolus, albeit most likely harmless in this situation, I recommended that she lay down. However, she refused to lay down, and would not let me place gauze over the IV site. She shoved my hands away every time I tried to place gauze over her IV and we were essentially wrestling back and forth for minutes. Right before the IV tip was pulled out, I was able to put gauze over it and tape it in place.

As I reflected upon this encounter at home, I realized that I really cared about this patient and wanted the best for her. I felt disappointed that she did not take my well-intentioned advice that was meant to help her. Then I realized how heartbroken God must feel when His children whom he cares and loves deeply disobey His commands that were meant for their good. I was not angry at her, but sad that she was too fixated on what she wanted in that moment and could not see a better alternative. Perhaps in many ways, I am like her in God’s eyes. I have desires that I am fixated on. I also have disobeyed God despite His wholehearted intention for me to do what is righteous. I have broken God’s heart many times. Despite my ways, God is gracious to those who repent and promises eternal life, delivery from sins, and refuge for the broken.

This patient encounter started out disheartening but I definitely learned from it. Now, if I see the same patient again in the ED for another pain crisis, my prayer would be “Lord, I pray that you would help me to treat this patient with the same kind of grace and forgiveness that you demonstrated to me.”

4 Things I Wish I Knew Before 1st Year

Just a few tidbits that I learned on my way to being 1/4th Doctor…

  • Don’t underestimate the difficulty of medical school.
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Late night group date with histology

Medical students said that it’s hard. Teachers and mentors warned that it’s hard. Yet with foolish pride, I still thought, it can’t be that hard. I thought hard would be late nights and weekends in the library. Later I realized that hard was catching a cold four times in a year and losing weight without exercise. Hard was failing an exam and doubting whether I would pass the next one. Hard was missing my sister’s school performances and my friends’ graduations. Hard was seeing my classmates struggling too and not knowing what to do. Of course, my experience is not everyone’s experience, but it doesn’t undermine the fact that I would ask God countless times for strength just to make it to the end of the day. I wish that I had better prepared myself mentally and emotionally for the task ahead of me and truly understood the sacrifices that I would have to make.

  • Find rocks for strength as well as cushions for comfort.
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A few of my many cushions!

My family has always kept me grounded and accountable. They remind me that I am strong and capable and lend support when needed. These rocks were essential in driving me forward and upward, and I wish I had utilized them more and sooner. Sometimes, though, rocks were not what I needed. I needed people who would hug me after a long day, grab giant meals and sweets after exams, listen patiently as I ranted and cried, and assure me that my worth doesn’t come from numbers and comments. Finding and calling on that kind of support earlier instead of (again) foolishly thinking I can do medical school without much help would’ve helped a lot.

  • Ask for help.

Though similar to the previous item, this one deserves to stand on its own. There are times to vent to family or friends. And then there are times to speak to a professional. After doing poorly on an exam, I knew I had to do something different. Though I felt embarrassed, I set an appointment with Dr. Lamberton through the School of Medicine’s Student Affairs office. I never thought that I would sit in front of a dean to talk about a low score. But after that meeting, I was glad I went. I realized staff and faculty members are truly there to encourage and offer tangible support. Over the course of first year, the Student Affairs office has been indispensable to my success in medical school. They set up tutors (take advantage early!) and have many connections and resources. I wish I knew earlier that it’s okay and normal to ask for help.

  • Connect with something greater than myself.
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Friday night music and Bible study

This one I had been doing before medical school but it was easy to stop doing it once classes picked up. When drowning in my own struggles, I looked inwardly and focused on rescuing myself. Soon there wasn’t time to spend in the Word or to give to others. But the more I focused on myself, the more anxious and helpless I felt. I found volunteering to be refreshing because it reminded me of the bigger picture–that there is a world out there that needs help too. Though sometimes I didn’t feel like it, I went regularly to Bible studies and worship services so that I could at least spend that time reflecting on a God who cared and whose character I wanted. I wish I had taken more time to do things that weren’t just about me and my studies.

To the first years starting classes in a few days, I wish you only the very best! If I can make it, I know that you definitely can too.

From Homeschooling to Loma Linda

I’m now a second year med student, and I am excited to finally contribute to the blog I read so much during my college years. Whether it was reading for information about Loma Linda and its MD program, perusing for an interesting and funny story, or simply looking for inspiration that I would one day get here, this blog has been one of my favorite sites to visit for the past few years. This is my first timer as a regular blogger, and I hope you’re as excited as I am for this continuing journey in medicine.

 

I’m the oldest of 10 home-schooled children. Normally, when people hear this, their mouth drops and they say “How did your Mom do it?”, “your poor Mom”, or “your Mom must be amazing.” Actually, she always wanted a big family. My Dad wanted at least 2 boys and 2 girls, and it just so happened that they had me first, then 5 girls, followed by the second boy. With 7 children already, they asked “What’s a few more?” and had 3 more boys to round out 10 children even divided between boys and girls.

Family photoMy family

Living in a large family has its share of fun and responsibilities. I really enjoy having so many siblings to do things together with. Whether playing a game of soccer, playing music together, or planning a mission trip, we have lots of people to get things done. There is always someone to play or chat with. Growing up, we all obviously had lots of responsibilities to help keep our family and school running smoothly. We all have to help watch little ones, wash laundry and dishes, and help teach our younger siblings. One of the reasons I really enjoy teaching (and may possible pursue academic medicine) is that I have been helping teach my siblings since I was 8. In our home-school, when you complete a grade level, you should be proficient enough at the grade level to teach it to a younger sibling. This has really helped reinforce the learning both for the older and younger sibling.

HomeschoolingThis is what homeschooling looks like!

For high school, I mostly taught myself out of textbooks as we use Rod and Staff curriculum along with Apologia for high school science and Saxon (back then) for math. My dad was my math and science tutor and my mom helped me a lot with English. I finished our homeschool curriculum at 16 when I passed the California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE). I then enrolled at Fullerton College for the next 2 years before I transferred to California State University Fullerton where I graduated last year with a degree in biology. During college, I was able to go on several summer medical mission trips to Honduras and Mexico. I had read a lot of missionary biographies growing up and was already thinking about pursuing medicine since high school. Mission trips really confirmed for me that medicine was what God wanted me to go into.  I was able to see God using health professionals to heal and touch people’s lives (for a story, check out this link https://mercertohonduras.wordpress.com/) and I saw medical missions as something I wanted to continue in my career.

 

As my parents and I began looking at medical schools to apply to, we found out about Loma Linda. I really was drawn to the mission of the school and its many opportunities for medical service. Reading the blog, I was impressed by the Christian environment of the school and the balanced lives of the students during medical school. I have been to every Loma Linda University open house since 2012, and each time I visited, I would count down the number of years left till I could apply and join this amazing school of medicine. I am happy to be here and would not rather be anywhere else, although a few months before matriculating at Loma Linda, UCLA school of medicine, a top 20 medical school that I had applied to as a back-up, offered me a scholarship on top of cheaper in-state tuition to go there. Although going to UCLA for 4 years would have been significantly cheaper than Loma Linda, I felt that God still wanted me to go to Loma Linda. I realized that there are things such as a school’s environment, mission, and character that are more important than money and prestige. Loma Linda has been a dream come true, and I am looking forward to the journey ahead!

DSC_2420Made it here to the school of my dreams!

Our second year starts in 11 days. Here’s to the last few days of break!