A Match Day Love Letter

March 18, 2016 § Leave a comment


As I write this, a mix of jetlag and excitement puts a gulf between rest and me.

In just nine hours, surrounded by some of my favorite people in this world, I will tear open an envelope and pull out a piece of paper. The unfolding of that paper is symbolic. It is an unwrapping – a revelation – of my future. The culmination of possibly my entire life’s work to date. And, while I am but a small speckle of dust in the universe, I feel as if I am embarking on a journey that is ancient, holy, and substantial.

The anticipation is tearing at me as I wait for the sun to show itself. Bring me closer to this unfolding! Tell me where I will spend the next three years of my life (possibly some of the most formative) for residency. Indeed, in a literal sense, where will I live? But, more importantly, where will I live and breathe the art of medicine and healing? Where will I earn the “M.D.” that will follow my name come May?

Where will I earn the sacred trust that real people will vest in me?

Medical residency is where the true learning begins, and the heaviness of this charge both haunts and elates me. I still cannot fathom the realization of this moment and the beautiful weight of the responsibility I will officially hold come graduation. I can’t help but wonder, “Am I enough?”

It’s been said that a balance of both confidence and humility characterizes true physicianship, and my humility seems to be tipping the scales as of late. How did I come to survive these past few years? How was I able to become worthy of this trust?

Sitting on my couch, alone in my dark apartment, I have never felt more connected to the characters at play in my life’s narrative. The self-doubt that I tend to feel in the abilities I’ve acquired now fade away  when I remember that I am the product of the influence of many wonderful people.

My mother, sister, and family. The anchors. You were my first teachers, and your first lesson was to love others deeply. Indeed, you taught me that love is not earned. It is doled out in plenty and will be returned in plenty. You taught me that love should be protected, and that, when times are difficult, love of family, of community, of humanity will see you through the storm. With your love, I have survived every one.

My Takafumi. The love of my life. You make the past more delightful to remember, the present more tenable to endure (think medical school), and the future more thrilling to daydream about. I’ve told you this many times, but our life together makes every bit of this journey worth the effort. We’re building something so beautiful together, and that actually gives me confidence in myself. If I can deserve someone like you, I must be someone worthy too.

My friends. The color. Your thirst for life and the way you devour the sweetness of this world have made me all the more passionate about protecting, preserving and improving the lives of others. On top of the laughter and the joy you bring to me, you offer me a vision of what is at stake.

My mentors. The guides. You helped steer my professional and personal growth at every turn, and you forced me to see myself clearly through the fog. If I have gained even just an ounce of your integrity, will, and energy, I know I will serve my patients well.

I am the sum of these parts, these perfect and magnificent parts.

When I remember that, Match Day starts to feel so right, so appropriate at this juncture in my life.

I am ready.


Couldn’t look away.

August 6, 2013 § 1 Comment

Couldn’t look away.

Having finished anatomy in the spring, I felt an inability to look away, to keep myself from sifting through these photos of the body in death, in all its tragic beauty.

There’s something lonely and yet utterly triumphant about these photos, and I wonder if I only feel this way because I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the workings of the human body — of the sheer magic that it is, even when its movements have come to a end.

Patrik Budenz – “Post Mortem”

The Same Different Path

February 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

So, every morning, I take the M72 bus from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side, and each time, it’s sort of like this triumphant parade for me. It is my daily march to medical school — a daily affirmation of the hard work, the tears, and the white hairs that it took to get me into Weill Cornell Medical College.

I swear to you this: every morning, I am astonished that I have finally made it into this club, and as funny as it sounds, I feel so unbelievably lucky to have to ride that slow M72 bus at the ass crack of dawn every day to these classrooms where, lesson by lesson, I get to make my dreams come true.

Today, my march started as I waited for the bus behind a couple wearing matching bubble jackets, he in blue and she in red. They held hands as they shivered in the cold morning wind of 72nd Street, and they only let go to swipe their Metrocards.

During the ride, I paid little attention to the couple. Normally, I study my lecture notes on the bus, as familiar commuter faces get on and off at the same stops as they do every day. Today was no exception. As usual, I instinctively started packing my notes into my bag when we stopped at the light in front of Daisy’s Cafe on Second Avenue. A quick two blocks later, we stopped at York Avenue, where nurses and doctors and secretaries and researchers scurry to their respective posts in any of the major medical institutions in this hub I call, “Medicineville.”

I followed in line after the couple as the passengers emptied the bus. Again, the couple held hands. The man was slightly propping the woman up against him, stabilizing her as they walked down York Avenue, past the spicy smells of Halal food and coffee, past countless men and women in long white coats and scrubs.

Amidst the hubbub of the early morning commute, they moved slowly to their destination. She must feel weak, I thought. She must be a patient. Three blocks down, I hooked a left across the street to my school, and I noticed the couple kept walking on.

I stopped to watch them turn a corner, and I knew that they were going to the famous MSK Cancer Center. It shook me.

For me, this trip every morning is literally a part of the realization of my dreams to become a doctor. It’s the beginning of everything I’ve wanted to accomplish for myself as an individual, as a professional, as a human being. This trip is my pride march.

And, this morning, that pride was humbled, as I watched two other people make the same trip.  Every step for them must have felt different. Every inch closer to Medicineville was a reminder of the ordeal they may or may not be facing.

I can’t stop thinking about how terrified they might have been, and about how different that bus trip must have been for them. How many times have they made the trip? Did they know anything yet? Was there a prognosis? What are her chances? How long did she have? Is she being cared for well? Is she even the patient? Is he okay?

I can’t help but wonder about how different their narrative may be from mine, and even more, about how interwoven our narratives can one day become. And how I want to be part of that process, that journey, that story for my future patients.

Feeling that way — that I want to be part of it all, even the frightening and the heartbreaking bits of it — was an even more meaningful affirmation of what I set out to do here at Weill Cornell.

I know that I’m in the right place, and that is a wonderful thing.


Drop it like it’s hot.

December 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

I just want to reflect on something.

Do you know how hard it was to get into an American medical school?

Scream. Shake. Faint.

The Infinite Wandering

December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

The mind is a crazy thing. The way it stretches truths and builds expectations from nothing. The way you can fashion memories that haven’t happened and create images of a life you think you may want, but you’ve never lived it to truly tell the difference. The way you can create cracks in the foundations of the strongest relationships you’ve known. Out of deeper personal insecurities and a feckless mind capable of wandering just about anywhere, you can step out of bounds of what you really know, what you’ve actually experienced, what is really in front of you.

And I guess the issue is, and the reason you can never stop wondering about the unknown, you can never know what is really in front of you. It’s all a leap of faith, a fragile trust in a future that is so completely uncertain.

It is a trust in the path you’ve chosen for yourself, in the idea that the realization of your dreams is attainable. A trust in the people to whom you’ve given your heart, that they will care for it gently, thoughtfully, and wisely.

And for the cautious mind, when life is good, when things are falling in place, the self can wander to darker places to prepare for darker times. If this dream doesn’t pan out. If you lose a family member. If he isn’t as perfect as he seems. And on and on with the self doubt and the questioning and the vulnerability. It’s maddening.

For me, before this nonsense boils over, before I act upon odd sensations of insecurity, a sensible part of me is normally able to pull myself back into what I know — what is really in front of me. And I tell myself to stop wondering about all the bad that may happen. I tell myself to stop fearing the unfounded.

I’ve always been a thinking person whose mind travels far beyond the finite experiences I’ve had. When I come to that realization, each time I feel insecure, I remember that trust. I remember that I can only live my life with the facts I have before me. If I turn out to be mistaken, or if my path swerves in some unexpected way, I will make do.

I will somehow, despite myself, make do.



June 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Last year, my stepfather retired from a long career as a rehabilitation physician. I can tell it’s been a difficult transition for him, trying to find ways to pass the time, ways to enjoy the life he’s got — as it changes, as it hastens, as it swerves away from his control.

As time goes on, my parents keep getting older. Usually, I am so consumed with my own life’s petty dramas that, when I finally get a moment to stop and look around, I realize that my parents’ lives are changing too. My stepfather’s hair is whiter than ever.  My mother has new laugh lines and deepened crow’s feet, nesting at the corners of her almond-shaped eyes. Indeed, their bodies grow weaker, their lives shift, and there are illnesses that they can’t avoid. And I can’t help but wonder if I’m wasting the precious time I have left to get to know my parents better.

After college, when I was working at the Foundation, I was living at home for a year or so, trying to save rent money by commuting. When I wasn’t sleeping over at Takafumi’s place on work nights, I remember how I would get home from my long commute, eat dinner, and rush to my room. Like an angsty teenager, I’d spend most of my nights tied to my computer, chatting with my boyfriend and recharging for the next day of work. I was so blinded.

So many years ago, I remember feeling like I’d wasted that precious time with my father when he passed away, and I told myself then that I wouldn’t do that with mom. I would tell her how much I loved her every day. I do tell her that I love her, and I do often. However, I don’t know if I’ve done enough, and often enough, to make her truly feel the deep love and respect I have for her—and for her husband, my stepfather.  I don’t know if I’ve done enough to cherish her life and her experiences, by asking her questions and finding a deeper understanding of who she is and who she continues to become.

Older, wiser now, I realize where time has placed us, and yet here I am again— forgetting to call more often, staring at my cell phone when I’m with them, still ignoring the inevitable, because, in a way, children always pretend that their parents are the constants of their lives.

But, truly, they are a gift, a transient gift.

Thankfully, this summer has offered me some time to think about this. To stop and discover those new laugh lines. To spend a day away from my own dramas, leaning on my mother’s shoulder, watching her fulfill new roles. Last week, I saw her holding her month-old step-grandson, placing a bottle in his mouth and rocking him gently in her arms. My stepfather, the new Grandpa, was looking over them, lovingly. Even now, they find newness in things.

And I get to experience that should I choose to open my eyes.

I won’t have these opportunities with my parents forever. I don’t know if someday my mother will get to hold my own children the way she held that little boy, but I can imagine the kind of love she’d give. I get to take these memories with me. I get to take the memory of a warm Wednesday in June and the love of two new grandparents, a love that was so palpable and so beautiful. I get to take that along with me, long past the days when my parents are no more.

Should I choose to see, I can keep them with me. So, I choose to see.

The way things work.

November 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

I consider it a blessing to have this opportunity to learn about how the world works. I’m actually flabbergasted that, before entering this Postbacc Premed program, I had appreciated little of the magic that fills the world around all of us.

Often, I think people move through their lives just accepting that the world is what it is — the things around you came to be somehow, but all that really matters is that those things exist as they are when you need them. But, after taking a year’s worth of science courses, I realize that I’m asking more and more about how did this get here? What chemistry — what magic — was used to produce this piece of paper? What technology created this specific texture? It may seem trivial, but it’s not. Whether by scientists or nature or some higher power, every facet of every thing has been engineered for a specific function. The make-up of this world comes together for a reason, and knowing a bit about how the world works, I actually believe that.

Now, as I do simple tasks, I think about the energy that was used to drive the mechanical force that pushes these buttons, and simultaneously, I wonder about the brain that wires information to my hands to keep them typing, to choose this word and not that, to formulate language, and thoughts, and feelings. It’s all a circle, and I’m just in awe at how literally wonderful the world is.

I suppose this geek moment was brought on by a piece of writing my biology professor assigned for reading. Sometimes, I tend to forget what my current courses have to do with medicine, but this piece made me realize that it’s all connected. It kind of blew my mind. Call it nerdy, but I just think that our universe is crazy amazing.

Write with a pen.

October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last year, I started writing in pencil because I was working on so many calculations. Indeed, there was room for error last year. I could make some mistakes.

As I come closer and closer to finally entering the world of medicine, the pressure is building, and room for error is rapidly closing. In one of my classes, I actually must write in pen, if I want the ability to request a regrade.

The transition has been somewhat unsettling. A perfectionist at heart, I felt that the ability to erase seemed like a safe-haven — and it kept my notes looking flawless. But now I’m writing my problem sets and lecture notes in pen, because I need to practice.

I need to see my errors, understand them, and correct them. I need to highlight my weaknesses and turn them into strengths. I need to learn to be better, faster, clearer — the first time around.

This year, I’m not f*cking around.

peanut butter cups and kit kats.

September 22, 2011 § 3 Comments

This week, I’ve had this insane craving for peanut butter cups. I don’t eat them often, but there was something about this week that made it difficult for me to abstain. In fact, I did the exact opposite and devoured an entire package of peanut butter cups from Duane Reade. I was probably a horrific sight to see after the crime, but it just felt right. It felt like being a kid again — before I knew that eating a whole pack of candy was the wrong thing to do, before I knew anything really.

When I was young, there were these special nights when Papa came home from work with treats for my older sister, Dianne, and me. Ate Dianne usually got Crunch Bars or something of the like, but I always got Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats.

I never knew why Papa always got me peanut butter cups and Kit Kats. I don’t remember telling him that I favored the two types of chocolate, and, actually, I have always been pretty impartial. I’d eat anything. Nevertheless, Papa would come home with those treats in tow, each type seemingly chosen with one of his daughters in mind.

Maybe he wanted to be consistent. Maybe he saw how savagely I devoured them when he first gave the peanut butter cups to me, and he thought, “Well, that’s what Milna likes best!” Maybe that’s all the store had. Maybe it was random. Or, maybe he wanted to make it a tradition, something sweet for his daughters to remember him by.

It happens to be one of the few things I do remember so vividly about him. It makes me wonder about him. I wonder where he got them from. Was it from schoolkids selling candy for a fundraiser? Was there a store near his dealership in Jersey City? Did he stop by there every few days to pick up lotto tickets?  And, while he was on line, did he throw the chocolates on the counter and add it to his bill? Did he think to himself, “While I’m at it, might as well? For the girls.” Did he even think in English?

I don’t know, and I wish I could ask him. It may not seem like any of this really matters, but there is so much I’d ask him if I could talk to him today. And it wouldn’t have to be deep. It wouldn’t have to be life-changing. I wouldn’t need to know if he was proud of me or what he’d do differently about his life.

I just want to know more about him.

As time passes, I feel that I forget more and more about my father. I knew him when I was too young to know anything, to appreciate anything, to savor anything.  Sometimes, I think that I’m forgetting the sound of his voice. Like I’m losing what little I have left of him. And that’s frightening to me.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another year in what’s been a lifetime of growing, learning, and living without my father. Perhaps that’s why my subconscious craved for a piece of my innocent past, a taste of what I once had.

A father who brought home peanut butter cups for his youngest daughter, the one he’d never really get to know too.

Enter the grind.

September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve made my decision. I’m going to “link” to medical school. What this means is that, instead of applying to dozens of medical schools next summer (and entering medical school in the Fall of 2013), I will be applying through a special program at my school. The deadline for my application is December 1 of this year (AH!), and I will apply to only one school. The admissions committee at Columbia’s Postbacc Premed Program will choose whether to nominate me for linkage. Upon nomination, the school of my choice will either accept me or reject me, and that acceptance is contingent upon getting a 34 on my MCAT next April or May. If all goes well, I’ll be a medical student somewhere in New York City — one year from now.

I just had to say that, to write that, to make that real. Life is about to get intense this semester, in a way that I have never known, and I’m still trying to get all the sand out of my apartment. This week has been the first week of hard work — the first of many endless days, but I have decided to stay true to this commitment to myself and to my future in service.

This is serious for me. Getting to the next step means I must succeed right now.  A week ago, the thought of that seemed so intimidating to me that I could hardly keep the anxiety at bay. I’ve since regained my composure, but the gravity of it all remains clear to me.

I am going to work with all I’ve got, so if you don’t see me until next summer, I apologize.  However, I do promise my dear girlfriends that, 5 years from now when I am a doctor, I will give you a life’s worth of antibiotic prescriptions for your many issues. Ride or die, ladies.

Ride or die.