Friday, April 07, 2006

Cooke - Narrative Autobiography

"Tree burn," a new phrase (to me) in medical terminology, is but one condition supporting my certainty that I want to be a doctor. I have only recently learned about tree burn though my interest in medicine began at a much earlier age.

My first two years of college I concentrated on academics while participating in several honor and service organizations. I am proudest of my service in the Biomedical Science Society where, as vice president my sophomore year, my service was recognized with the Society’s 2001 Philanthropy award in recognition of my accomplishments over two years with Atria Assisted Living Home and various student organizations to provide bimonthly activities between Atria's residents and college students. I helped implement several programs between Atria’s residents and student organizations to provide ice cream socials, "senior" prom nights, hula parties, and many bingo nights. The work with Atria enabled students to help others, give of themselves, and enter into caring relationships with others. It developed an environment of collegial participation among students, faculty, and the community. It increased the civic and citizenship skills of students. It allowed Atria to better serve their clients and benefit from the infusion of enthusiastic volunteers. It exposed students to societal inadequacies and injustices in elderly care and empowered students to remedy them. I am proud that after four years many of these events still take place. I participated in health care activities, exercise classes, and walking "races." I read to many of them, listened to records with some, and watched an artist who learned to paint with his left hand after his right side was paralyzed by a stroke. Atria Assisted Living Home was a horizon widening experience. Where the residents’ unique perspective taught me that aging is often only a physical ailment, and their devil-may-care attitude that life is short and we needed to enjoy it whatever our age prevailed. Like a flower receiving the gardener’s tender care, I can think of no other experience where I received so much more than I ever gave. I took away lifetimes of advice, knowledge and lore shared by these people. They warmly accepted me, and I sill benefit from the memories of their love and concern for my future.

Organic chemistry, the bane of all but a few dedicated science majors, forced me to learn outside my comfort zone. On my first day of class, the professor instructed everyone to raise their hand. He asked everyone who had played a team sport to put his hand down. He then explained that organic chemistry was like playing sports, you have to practice in order to be really good. Then he said the analogy also holds true for anyone who has ever played a musical instrument. It takes dedication and practice to be a good musician. So, he asked everyone who played an instrument to put his hand down. Out of the sixty plus people in my class, I was the only one with my hand still raised and I knew I was in over my head. That very week I bought a violin and started practicing. I am not very good at it, but I practice and play. I have, however, decided there is a strong likelihood I will master the violin before I completely understand organic chemistry.
Irreconcilable differences led to a restructuring in the dynamics of my life. My parents, bastions of emotional support are unable to provide financial support, but with their love and that of my friends I have learned to balance work and school and become successfully independent. I have worked fifteen-hour shifts every weekend for two years, in Memorial Hospital, Gulfport, Mississippi, while pursuing my academic career during the week. It was here that I learned about tree burn.

Tree burn is like carpet burn except that it occurs after you have hugged a tree through a hurricane in order to survive. I saw many people with tree burn when I became one of the many survivors waiting out the fury of hurricane Katrina at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport. I am normally employed as the weekend cardiology department technician. I am one of the few people in my department without children and have volunteered to be our departments designated member of the hurricane and emergency preparedness staff. I left my home on Sunday with three pairs of scrubs and toiletries. The biggest worry on mind was the Medical College Admissions Test that I had taken only eight days before, and how nervous I would be for the next two months waiting for my scores to be reported. The next morning, instead of my shift ending, I was moving patients from the exterior rooms into the hallways to escape the glass of windows shattering under the assault of hurricane force winds. I helped nail doors shut, calm patient’s fears, and assist the other medical staff. We waited together. I do not remember feeling scared, probably because I was too busy attending to the people needing my help. The winds finally died down enough to board up the windows and provide a secure environment for the patients. I became part of the custodial staff and cleaned up glass and debris so we could return patients to their rooms. Like an unending nightmare, I was pressed into service in the emergency department where all available technical staff was needed to assist the medical staff. My first trip outside of the hospital occurred when a dump truck pulled into the ambulance bay. The driver let the tailgate down and over twenty people stepped out of the back. I helped treat minor lacerations of children rescued after enduring long periods of submersion in the flooding caused by the hurricane. Our discharged patients and newly homeless people often became restless as they waited worriedly together in the makeshift shelter the hospital had become. I helped wrap food to feed them. I passed out colors and stickers to children. I lent emotional support to parents putting on an appearance of normality and calm assurance for their children. By Wednesday, the hospital was running short of generator fuel. While returning to my office and bed having just finished taking a shower at 1AM, I found myself in a pitch-black hallway. Once again I was pressed into service in other departments, first ER then ICU, where I assisted in bagging patients needing the air no longer being provided by the respirators. I am sure it was disconcerting for some to see me doing this in my pajamas.
Wednesday afternoon, ninety-six hours after leaving for work, I was afforded my first opportunity to return to my home. When I arrived, my house looked perfect, but I was only able to push the door open a crack. My home, flooded into four feet into the attic during the storm, was knee deep in mud and muck from the flooding in Bay St. Louis. Most of my belongings were forever lost. I did not even try to go inside. I simply shut the door on my wrecked home and the emotional loss it contained and returned to work. Realizing I was very fortunate to still have a job in a hospital staffed with exceptional medical personnel who, in this crisis, stepped up and took responsibility to provide treatment and care to so many left homeless and destitute. As I relive the events of those four days, I am more certain than ever my career choice to become a medical doctor truly is my destiny.


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