My journey so far

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength” Co. Marcus Aurelius about COVID-19 🙂

COVID-19 created a lot of chaos in many countries and government institutions. Medicine was one of those professions that had to adjust quickly and simply couldn’t catch up with the ever-changing situation. Many doctors were affected directly, losing colleagues, and possibly loved ones. New York was hit hard and fast. I was in Ghana on my mission when the US had their first cases. JFK was empty and deserted upon my return home. Two days later I left for the Mayo Clinic, an experience that I had been looking forward to for so many months. During that month at Mayo, everything changed and has never been the same since. At Mayo, we received briefings on social distancing and hygiene routines. None of these precautions bothered me, as it almost felt like I have been preparing for this pandemic my whole entire medical career. How much more isolated could I be? I spent the past 4 years trying to find a quiet space to study. The only problem now is that I am always in the hospital, which has a higher risk of COVID, otherwise nothing has changed.

Going back home to New York, after Mayo, in the middle of the New York COVID outbreak sounded insane, but it made sense to me. I could help by volunteering and I could work on my research projects. As an added bonus, virtual education was set up pretty quickly. New York looked empty but organized. Everybody was masked up, whether they were on their bikes or jogging. New Yorkers worked hard to follow the rules. COVID left a long-lasting impression and scared many doctors. Some of my attendings lost colleagues or family members. Surgeons were afraid to operate, in fact, many of the first zoom conferences were set up by professional organizations to provide clarification between rumors and fact. When the BLM riots began, I was on my family medicine rotation, where we saw 30-40 patients a day in the office. I also participated in teleconference appointments for those patients unable to come to the office during COVID. I literally missed the riots, because after-curfew rides back home were arranged for me by either clinic staff or even once by police officers. I saw neither the fallout from the BLM riots or daylight during that rotation. We were that busy trying to see all those patients who have been waiting for 3 months due to COVID restrictions in New York.

“I just wanna be in the room where it happens…. The room where it happens…” Co Hamilton, musical

New York was returning back to a “new normal”: masks, phases of New York opening again, and restrictions. Wearing a mask was not hard for me, as I had spent most of the last 2 years wearing masks in the OR, oncology wards, path labs, or grossing rooms. Continuing to wear a mask seemed to be life as usual for a med student on clinical rotations. Additionally, social distancing is in every med student’s DNA by the time you are in your 4th year. We are on a permanent lock-down by choice (work, study, drink tea, sleep, repeat). As terrible as COVID has been, it hasn’t really changed my routine.

Along with COVID-19 changes, many amazing institutions and organizations were able to transition to an online platform. Suddenly, I was able to participate in conferences, tumor boards, or Women oncology lectures from amazing places all around the world. Top-notch programs started not only sharing their knowledge, but I was able to be in every “room where it happens” at the same time, simply by clicking a link to join the conference room.

Duke University in Durham has provided me with a virtual experience based on my current interests in oncological surgery and its pathology. I also was able to have some one-on-one time with Dr. Jiang who is a leading specialist in Rapid On-Site Evaluations, including guided ultrasound FNA collection and cytopathology sign-outs. Cytopathology has a magical, mysterious feeling about it, everything is disjointed and yet is so beautiful. It’s like Picasso cubism or some sort of grotesque. You simply can not look away; it’s that fascinating. On top of it, it’s really affordable, quick, and rewarding. First, I will learn how to mix and prepare PAP smears, then we will see where it takes me …

Saba is a volcanic island, 90 minutes by boat and 15 minutes by plane from St. Martin. Before landing on Saba, the pilot turns off the plane’s engines, gliding into the extremely short runway that is flanked by cliffs and the ocean. At 400m in length, it’s one of the shortest commercial airstrips in the world. During my basic science, I flew in and out of this airstrip each semester. The island is a special municipality within the Netherlands but doesn’t really have that European feel when compared to the French island of St. Barthelemy. Saba has only one road that goes around part of the island, which is aptly called “The Road”. Saba Medical school is located on the edge of a volcano with incredible views of both the volcano and the ocean. The town, known as The Bottom, consists of small red-roofed houses, government buildings, and the medical school. Students stay in residence for the first semester and then move out to local rentals for the rest of their first two years. When I was in clerkships in the USA, I learned to appreciate the completely focused environment for study that Saba had provided to us due its remote setting, a hidden gem in the middle of the Caribbean.

Tijon Perfume Creation Experiences

I have visited Tijon Perfume, on St. Martin, several times. If you are a fan of Patrick Suskind’s famous book “Perfume” or love science and art and are looking for the perfect combination – this is the place for you. You will get to make a perfume out of dozens of different extracts. If you are not a scientist, you will get some help. You can then make your own perfume, and best of all, they keep your recipe on file, allowing you to keep reordering it. On my first visit to Tijon, I made one bottle for my mom, which she is still using. It proudly sits on her dresser with a label that says “Mom’s Garden” (made by your daughter), and next to some of her other favorites such as, Channel, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Poison.