July 1984: I grew up in a hostile and dangerous environment. In a land torn by politics and war, I would wake up nearly every day with a gun in my face, a friend’s life taken, and more of life’s pleasures removed. In a region with no security, fear turned into a permanent dark cloud. Its winds carried the anguish of people, and it became impossible to tell friend from foe. Life was so fragile, you could blow at it and it would simply disappear before your eyes. These were the first twelve years of my life. I wanted time to pass quickly, but minutes felt like hours, days like weeks, and months like years. This was my life growing up in the Palestinian refugee camps of the West Bank during the first Intifada in the late 1980s. Amidst the turmoil, my escape was school. Feeling my only hope was education, with the help of loved ones, I finished high school. Burning with desire to do more, I dreamed of reaching the land of opportunity – America.
July 1996: I fled Palestine…
July 2007: Eleven years have passed. My beeper goes off. I am now a medical resident. I have been working 79 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds for the past week. I just began tonight’s call and have already admitted five patients. After I’m called for a code blue in the cardiac care unit, I sprint purposefully through the hallways of the hospital, remembering myself as a child, running aimlessly between my neighbors’ houses. Stopping to stare at the badge on my white coat with the letters “MD”, I realize that my childhood hopes have become reality. Although I will never forget my past, I must return to my present. Rushing to the CCU, I do all I can, yet the patient dies from a failing heart. As I stand next to her bed, I see that she still has a smile on her face and her eyes are open. It was almost as though she was staring at me, trying to tell me something. Perhaps it is that I need to keep learning, keep striving, and keep improving so I can better serve my future patients.
I am in a new environment, a place where I can allay my fears and plan my future. It is residency. I savor my love affair with medicine. My past is set aside, and my senses explore the new; I have been reborn. Today, I confront new challenges with confidence and success, for I have learned how to overcome any adversity. I am comfortable now with conflict, with uncertainty, with even occasional failure, and with my uneven but always maturing and steady growing as a person and physician.
As I once sat in the audience listening to a motivational cardiologist, little did I know that one sentence was about to change my perspective. I will never forget those words: “to achieve your goals, you must be willing to be uncomfortable – to do things that you’re afraid to do. That’s how you develop your potential!” Indeed, I grew more secure and confident. I realize people’s lives are now dependent on my decisions, and my needs must be subordinate to theirs’. I am excited. For I now appreciate that is what medicine is about; I serve the sick. My purpose is clear. My life is changed forever.
July 2008: I am now chief resident. My beeper goes off. I run to the code and resuscitate my patient. This time she survives…
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