Friday, September 13, 2013

What I did on my summer vacation: Pre-Med edition

Like many of my fellow bioengineering peers, I have explored the pre-med track for sometime now, searching for my true passions and how they would best impact the world. This summer I sought to explore further the physician’s field by shadowing several doctors at Johns Hopkins University.
I began the summer observing a primary care geriatrician, which perhaps would not entice most people as today’s young medical school students search for the most specialized and high tech fields. However, I think if you followed Dr. John Burton for one day you would realize the importance of geriatrics from a truly inspiring teacher, colleague, friend, doctor, mentor, caregiver, and innovator that has greatly changed his field throughout his career.
I learned many lessons throughout my time with Dr. Burton all of them invaluable and essential to the essence of what is a caregiver and a healer. On my first day, Dr. Burton took me on a house call, which I did not even realize doctors still did. As many of his patients do not have the agility and capability of coming in to clinic this is an essential part of care, one that the medical system sometimes does not account for. The patient we visited was a widow and had been alone for many years, sparsely seeing family and friends and barely leaving the house. Dr. Burton’s right hand woman, nurse Jane Marks, assisted Dr. Burton in all aspects of the visit.  They have worked as an inseparable team for many years now. The patient’s welfare was not only her physical well-being, correct drug dosages, or curing specific symptoms, but also her emotional and mental state. I learned that Mrs. Marks regularly took the patient grocery shopping and drove the patient to groups for the elderly. Mrs. Marks goes above and beyond, as Dr. Burton says, and she truly touches the lives of those around her, providing the care that few others provide. Dr. Burton and Mrs. Mark’s patients have become like family to them. Following them for several decades and sharing their personal lives, they not only have changed their patient’s health, they have also incited a different view of the medical system, one that makes room for those that cannot subscribe to the normal protocols and, without them, would remain forgotten.
            I also had the honor and privilege of shadowing Dr. Luca Vricella, a pediatric cardiac surgeon. Although in the same institution, this experience was an entirely different from shadowing Dr. Burton. Dr. Vricella wakes up before dawn and arrives at the hospital to check on his patients before meetings with cardiologists, pediatricians, and other specialists. They discuss their patients in John Hopkins’ brand new facility, which integrates the OR with the post-op rooms, cardiologists, and technicians. Once again, nurses, doctors, and technicians work seamlessly together to ensure the best possible care for the patient. The first surgery I attended was on a 6 month old baby boy who needed a tetralogy of Fallot repair, which means his heart has four severe defects. As I gowned up and entered the OR, I was afraid for the baby’s life and for my own emotions and responses. As Dr. Vricella made the first incision and the smell of blood reached my nose, I struggled to see the beauty and necessity in open-heart surgery. Fortunately, I did not faint and even more fortunately my feelings took an unexpected turn. As the chest opened, I began to see a small, faintly beating heart. Entranced by the heartbeat, I could not believe the beauty of the human body and soul. This trance slowly began to wear off, as I grew curious about the swift, precise, and complex movements of Dr. Vricella’s tools. He effortlessly, or so it seemed to me, placed a perfectly sized patch on the patient’s septum and proceeded to perform other complex adjustments. Before entering surgery, Dr. Vricella told me that surgery is just like an airplane flight: there is a takeoff and a landing and then the in between. The landing began as the baby was taken off heart-lung bypass. In this moment everyone in the room was quiet and the only sounds were the beeping of the complicated machines. We waited to see, would the heart be capable of beating on its own? Would the blood flow to the entire heart? Would the baby boy be ok? With only a few seconds of delay, the heart began beating again, this time with a strength and passion that I had not seen before. Once again, I was entranced by the power and capability of the human heart and the human brain.
            These experiences showed me the amazing capabilities of doctors in the medical field today. They inspired me to choose a path that will touch people’s lives not only in the present, but also in the future. I think I can speak for many that without Dr. Burton and Dr. Vricella the world would be immensely different.

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