The Appendix Journal sent out a call for submissions in the month of September regarding first year medical students’ experiences beginning medical school during the COVID-19 pandemic. First year medical students nationwide are experiencing an incredibly dystopian introduction into healthcare. Historically, no other cohort of medical or PA students has begun their careers during such a tumultuous time and we wanted to hear all about it.
I’m singing to the girl on the surface of the black fridge- reflected back in warm light from above and blurred by the wrinkled, cool surface. On nights I need to relieve my tension from the week, I send out into the universe Fiona Apple lyrics that seem to resonate with my twenty-four-year-old soul. When the pandemic first began, Italian cities would find community orchestrating music across balconies: on the 6th floor a retired opera singer, and an accordion player two blocks away, three windows down. So maybe if I just sing in my solitude someone else, somewhere, will share in it.
I still can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve started medical school during a global pandemic, hundreds of miles from my partner, family, and friends and amidst a country divided. On a number of occasions I’ve found myself calling my mom and asking once again- “Is this normal adulthood? Or is this an exceptionally tragic and challenging time?” I can’t help but feel like a child in those instances.
When I was a child, my middle school teacher gave me a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Back then, I was quite proud to learn the word “endeavor” from it, but now I’m compelled to return to its pages as my own fingers tangle in the nerve plexus of human donors in anatomy lab: bundles of nerves I can see, hold and pull. The same cords which carry currents like live wires and electrify our organs and muscles. No human could have made this, only natural evolution over time: creating systems with structures so precisely calibrated and intricately connected that the odds of one tiny element being dysfunctional and leading to a cascade that prevents the entire body from working are astronomical. And yet here we are.
But when things do go wrong in the body, it is only humans who can intervene. At the sides of my classmates, we discovered how one donor’s physicians had taken an artery off of the inside of the rib cage and sewed it onto the heart in order to bypass a blocked vessel and allow a new path for oxygenated blood to flow towards the tissues in need. We’ve seen how physicians can remove a lung lobe to prevent further spread of metastatic cancer and increase a patient’s lifetime.
And so it is with taming the novel coronavirus, human mind and hand are required as the only species that can develop and implement a strategy to halt it. And yet we are also the only species that could assist it in propagating itself so far and for so long. With our refusal to stay in one place and need to interact with one another, we have eliminated the potential solution of burning the virus out as so many other viruses before it had met dead ends. But just as my medical training thus far has taught me that physicians need to meet patients where they are at, so too do we need to meet ourselves and each other where we are at: in the case of America, in our inability to properly socially isolate. It’s quite the paradox that our human need to socialize with one another has made us vulnerable to the virus and that it is our same human minds that will ultimately temper it.
Working in lab and lectures with my classmates and mentors clad in face-shields and facemasks gives me hope, however, in our ability as future healthcare professionals to put into practice now the discipline and dedication demanded in order to collectively preserve and restore health in our communities. It reassures me that with time and human resources, the day will come that I’ll come to discover the faces of my classmates, more than just their eyes, at a time in the future when PPE can be safely left behind in a corner at home. It helps me look forward to the day that I’ll be singing at an open-mic night, not to the reflection of my body in the fridge, my cold companion, but to friends and colleagues- solid-bodied, bare-faced, and electrified with life coursing through their nerves.
About the Author
Lola Lozano is a first year medical student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the Carver College of Medicine.