Tori’s Spirit

This past week, I was painfully reminded about just how fragile life could be.

About half of my overall class and I were in the middle of our Health Systems & Policy (HSP) class early Monday afternoon. The other half of my overall class were in the Medicine and Patients in Society class (MAPS) at the same time. I had just come from a Kaplan lunch talk not too long before, where a representative was talking about how great the Kaplan Question Bank was in preparing students for Step 1. My thoughts were drifting back and forth between how I was going to use the Kaplan Question Bank to supplement my ongoing studies, how to make sure that I had the best fantasy football team in the class draft that I had just been invited to, and the financing & distribution of Medicaid in North Carolina, which is what we were currently being lectured to about. It was your typical, sunny Monday afternoon.

Then around 1:30 PM or so, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs opened the door of the classroom as the professor was in mid-sentence and motioned for him to come over to her with her finger. Puzzled, he looked at her for a couple of seconds and exited the classroom with her. All of us in the class were quiet for a few seconds, and then indistinct chatter started to fill the room. My friend and I started joking around about what the professor must have been thinking as the Associate Dean, of all people, abruptly interrupted his class. After about a couple of minutes, the professor walked back in looking pretty shocked, along with the Associate Dean and about five other faculty members. I suddenly did not like the look of what was happening. I heard my friend behind me whispering “Oh no, this doesn’t look good. This looks like bad news. This is going to be bad.” The Associate Dean got to the podium as the other faculty stood in line facing us and started to break the devastating news that our classmate, and my friend, Tori McLean, had just passed away due to complications from the bone marrow transplant that was supposed to have saved her from her diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. As she said Tori’s name, my jaw dropped. I could hear gasps around the room. As the dean continued to speak, I began to hear my classmates sobbing across the room. A couple of my friends I was sitting at my table with began to sob as well. I was completely dumbfounded. My jaw just hung open for what felt like an eternity as I stared in disbelief at the dean. I don’t even remember most of what was said after hearing the initial news. Just before she finished speaking, she said we were free to take the afternoon off to collect our thoughts and to mourn. I then sat back in my chair and numbly stared at the ground. I had just entered one hell of a daze. I must have sat there like that for about five minutes or so as others around me packed up their belongings and left the room. I then somehow managed to get up, walk out of the classroom, and walk back to my apartment complex where I met up with a few friends in their apartment. I walked in the apartment, set my bag down on the floor, sunk in the couch, looked up at the ceiling and proceeded to stare blankly at it for almost an hour.

As I type this post almost a week later, I still find it hard to believe that she’s really passed on. Like, I’ll never see her on this Earth again. It’s an unreal feeling. I keep thinking about how her closest friends and her family must be taking the gravity of her loss. That thought alone saddens me. The fact that she won’t ever get the chance to become the incredible doctor that she had the potential to be, or to start her very own family, or to just continue with life in general as a 24-year old woman is very difficult to accept. She had been fighting so hard against this cancer that she has been diagnosed with since mid-March, right as we were about to take our first Neuroscience exam. It was so unfortunate, but we all figured, including her, that it was a terrible phase that she would get through before returning to her regular life. It’s terribly unfair that her life on Earth had to end this way, because she was such a great person…she went out of her way to make others feel better, even while she was fighting against the cancer wearing on her body. While I was checking in on her this past summer, she told me that she truly believed that I was not only wise beyond my years, but that she was confident that I would grow into an amazing doctor, especially now that she’s experienced the patient side of things. She said all this after stating how much it meant to her that I was reaching out to check on her when she could only imagine how busy I was. Lol, that was just how she was man, so humbling and appreciative of everything. I had to tell her that I was never too busy to check in on her and that I had been praying for her and her family every day. She also told me that she still had been reading my blog every week throughout her treatment, which really moved me. As a matter of fact, Tori had been a huge supporter of Black Man, M.D. since day one. She was always “liking” my blog posts on Facebook and had told me several times in the past how much she enjoyed reading it as well as how appreciative she was of the quotes I put up every week. When I spotted her at the school back in early August after school had started up again, I tore myself apart from the group I had been chatting with, shouted her name, and gave her such a big hug that I may have lowkey scared her now that I think back on it. My last interaction with her was when she wished me a Happy Birthday a few weeks ago and had hoped that my day was just as wonderful as I was. Man, I’m gonna miss her.

This past week has been a rough one, with losing Tori and simultaneously having to study for our Cardiology exam that we’re taking tomorrow. However, the school has been absolutely wonderful in responding to the tragedy. In a matter of less than five days, many emails were sent to our class from various faculty members, including from the Dean of the Medical Center himself, the medical class under us worked to console us by providing us snacks and a memory tree for Tori where we can write & hang our memories with Tori from the tree, a memory book for Tori’s family was purchased, and a memorial was planned to honor Tori’s life. This memorial service took place this past Friday in an auditorium at the former medical center next to the hospital. I’m happy to say that the auditorium was packed to the brim and that the service was phenomenal. Her whole family was present as well as many of the faculty, our classmates, and others that either knew her personally or knew of her. There were songs sung & played on the violin/cello/piano, prayers given, stories shared by her friends and family, tears dropped, and laughs shared between the people present. It’s incredible to realize that even after her time in this world had ended, she was able to bring so many people from all walks of life together in one place. I felt, and continue to feel, honored to have been friends with such an angel who has touched the lives of many.

There were many organizations on campus that Tori was a part of, but one thing she was absolutely passionate about was Project Teach, a program within the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) here at Wake where we help to tutor both middle and high-school students from the community around us on Tuesday nights. We had both been very involved in this program last year, but it was very obvious to me how important the program was to her. Her love for the kids shined so bright that she was made the Community Service Co-Chair alongside me so that she would have full control of how the program was run. Sadly, soon after obtaining that position, she received her diagnosis. She then reached out to me a couple of weeks after her diagnosis and asked for the “big favor” of temporarily assuming control over the program as she began to fight off the cancer threatening her life. Of course I obliged and began to do so alongside another friend who was also invested in the program who also happened to be the new Vice-President of SNMA. Her and Tori had been working to expand the program to high-school students in the community, for at that time only middle-school students were coming for tutoring. When this school year started, my friend and I continued to work on expanding the program and eventually got a nearby high school on board to participate. This past Tuesday was the very first day of Project Teach for the year and I’m happy to say that it was a phenomenal success! We had about 25-30 volunteers and just as many middle & high school students show up. And the number of students is expected to increase for this Tuesday as well! I really wish Tori was able to have seen how well the first day went and how much bigger the program is going to get this year. But I know she’s watching from high up above and smiling down proudly on all of us.

Life can be very rewarding and at times you may feel invincible. But life can also be just as fragile, for one moment you’re on top of the world and in the very next moment you can be on the ground suffering. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this unfortunate event and from medical school in general, it’s that nobody is invincible. Disease & Tragedy can strike any one of us at anytime, even if we mean well and do our best to stay healthy. However, as the late and great Maya Angelou once said, “people will never forget how you made them feel”. I’m sure that just about everyone who has been touched by Tori’s presence can comfortably say that they will never forget how she made them feel, and that although she’s physically gone, her spirit will continue to live on in them forever. Her spirit will surely continue to live on in me. We all only have one life to live, so let’s shape our lives the way we want to shape them. Believe it or not, we have the power to do so. And while we work on shaping it, let’s find a way to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. It can be as big as funding a full scholarship for somebody or as simple as genuinely telling someone that they are beautiful. Even something as small as giving someone a smile can do wonders for another person. You just never know.

Victoria “Tori” McLean

January 6, 1992 – September 12, 2016

May your phenomenal soul rest in eternal peace.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

– Black Man, M.D.

Pumping Against The Pressure

Bruh.

They doing the MOST with these Cardiology lectures.

Can someone explain to me how in the hell 23 lectures and 6 workshops managed to get packed into EIGHT school days?? (And I’m not even counting the other longitudinal classes we had to attend…) How are we supposed to manage all that in a little over a week? Like, we just started this block less than two weeks ago and we have more than enough information to be adequately tested on. This material isn’t easy either. What’s even wilder about this is that we have 24 more lectures to power through in the next two weeks before we get to our exam date for this block. 😭

TWENTY-FOUR MORE LECTURES!?!

And don’t let me forget about the workshops we have to attend in the same time span.

GIPHY Originals bored annoyed really done

You would think that I would be used to this lifestyle by now…and don’t get me wrong, I actually am. The block before this (Heme/Onc) was pretty busy too and I was doing alright. Neuroscience back in March was intense too, especially during the very first couple of weeks I was exposed to it. But Neuroscience was spread over three months. And Heme/Onc was relatively straight-forward once you sat down and played around with it for a while. But this Cardiology thing? It ain’t straight-forward at all. AT ALL. Plus, we only have a month to learn it all. The heart-body relationship seems simple at first glance, but it is so much more complex than you can imagine. Especially after you throw in Pressure-Volume Loops, Starling curves, Hypertension, EKG interpretations, Heart Failure, the multiple Alpha/Beta/Dopamine receptors, all the Cardiomyopathies, Sodium/Potassium/Calcium/BlahBlahBlah-ium channels, the Electrophysiology of the heart, and all the freakin’ drugs that can treat all kinds of heart conditions. And this is just what we’ve gone over so far. There’s a whole ‘nother storm of new material in this block that coming at us starting on Tuesday. Good God.

Funny thing is, this is probably the calmest I’ve felt all week long. Sounds crazy huh? I mean, I really was just ranting on how crazy this block has been so far. But now that I have this Labor Day weekend to study without having to think about another new lecture for a couple days, I can finally work on synthesizing all the material that has been assaulting me this past week and a half. You should’ve seen me earlier last week…I was struggling to keep up man. What got me the most was that I never really had time to actually learn the stuff I was taking in because there was always new information constantly coming at me. It came to a point where I would be sitting in lecture pissed off because I felt that I was wasting time by trying to listen to the lecturer when I could have been synthesizing the information I already learned. By Thursday of last week, I was getting headaches from just being in class. Tragic, ain’t it? Thank God for this Labor Day weekend. 🙏 I can chill out for a bit and now that I’m looking back on everything so far with the multiple resources I’m using, I can appreciate how manageable it all really is. So with that said, there’s no need to worry about my mental state lol. All I really need is God, my friends & family, and a positive mentality. I’ll be fine! 😄

I did get the opportunity to ultrasound my own heart during one of the workshops this past week though! I’ve done it before last year during anatomy, but now that I actually have a much better idea of what’s going on in the heart, I could appreciate it more this time around. I was told by one of the residents helping out with the workshop that I had a good heart. 😁 My group and I also got a clear view of my heartstrings, or chordae tendinae as we like to call it in the medical field. So in case you were wondering, that’s where the saying “pulling on your heartstrings” comes from. In addition, we got the opportunity to learn about the basics of health insurance in our Healthcare Systems & Policy class this past Monday, which I highly appreciated. I had been hoping for some kind of course on health insurance ever since last year because I actually know little to nothing on the subject, which is scary considering the fact that it will be a very crucial part of my future career. We started off with how health insurance is financed in America on a commercial level, which could be the subject of a whole other blog post. In later lectures, we’ll be getting into the many intricacies of health insurance and the extent to which money influences the many lives in this country that depend on insurance. All in all, I’m really looking forward to learning all about the topics that will be presented to us in that course. Granted, this means that I actually have to make time to look at that stuff outside of class…

Anywho, make sure to enjoy your Labor Day weekend! And do your best to carry that joy through the rest of this week!

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” – Jim Rohn

– Black Man, M.D.

Shifting Gears

Any of y’all know the difference between Leukemia and Lymphoma?

I thought I did…until last week happened.

I really had no idea how complex these cancers were. Like, you don’t just have leukemia. It’s broken up into various subtypes such as acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia and chronic lymphoblastic leukemia. Same with lymphoma, it’s divided into two categories: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s is one type of lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s encompasses all the other types of lymphoma that isn’t Hodgkin’s. How convenient. 

Now you may be asking why I’m talking about these cancers.  Or you may not care as to why I’m talking about them and are just passively reading along. Well regardless, I’m talking about them because we just spent the last six days being lectured on everything about both of those cancers as well as other cancer-like disorders of the blood, radiation oncology (the Chair of the radiation oncology department at Wake gave us this lecture…and he’s another black man! Ayyyeeee!!), and all the different types of chemotherapy that exist, along with all the thousand-billion-million-gazillion freakin’ cancer drugs that come with it. (Our chemotherapy lecture was four hours long in total and the PowerPoint was 175 slides. How Sway? HOW???) So needless to say, that’s pretty much the only thing on my mind right now lol. While it has all been interesting, it’s also been hell trying to sort all this information out in an organized way…but I THINK I’ve finally been able to do so. I’ve realized that I’ve got to be even more flexible than I was last year in regards to learning and retaining all of the information coming at me from all directions. Too bad we have another whole week of new material to learn that has to do with clotting factors of platelets and all the disorders and drugs that come with it 😭😭😭😭😭. And that’s not even the best part. Our test on Hematology/Oncology is next Tuesday.

will smith church fresh prince of bel air faint fresh prince

It crept up on me so fast man. I don’t want to even think about how many questions could be on this exam. But here’s the thing. I don’t even care about these tests anymore…to an extent. I haven’t lost my mind, I promise. Of course I’m still going to put my best foot forward and do the best I can on each exam that I encounter. But unlike last year, doing well on these exams is not my main priority. I have this hell of a beast called Step 1 coming up sooner than I would like to think, and I fully plan on doing whatever it takes to effectively slay it. This means that during these organ system blocks, instead of trying to figure out what I think is going to be on the subject tests and studying accordingly, I’m going to be deeply entrenched in everything I’m learning. This means that I’ll be memorizing facts less and actually understanding pathways and systems more. I was doing this during the Neuroscience block last year as well, but not to the extent that I will be doing it this year, for everything I’m going to be learning now will be very high-yield for both the Step 1 exam and for my future as a physician. Besides, I believe that by studying in this fashion, I should be able to do well on the subject tests anyway. So bottom line is, I’m Step focused and am not gonna be sweating these tests that come along the way.

In addition to learning all of that info last week, we started our Healthcare Systems & Policy class as well as our Medicine and Patients in Society class (MAPS). In the policy class, we spent our first day learning a bit about economics and how it relates to healthcare in general. We then did a group activity where each group had to choose insurance policies for a population using limited funds. That was hard, I must say. Boy am I glad I don’t have that job in real life…I would feel horrible having to cut out funding for one service in order to fund another service. Based on how our professor described the overall objectives of this course, I have a good feeling that I’m going to like this class! As for the other class (MAPS), it’s literally the same ethics class that I was in last year. However, they’ve totally revamped it. (THANK GOD!) To sum up some of the changes they’ve made:

  • Instead of being tested on readings, we’ll be tested with questions that are similar to the ones we’re likely to see on Step
  • We don’t have to sit in small group discussions for 90 minutes anymore
  • Our assigned readings will be more up-to-date instead of being from the Stone Age
  • We have a poster presentation that’s due at the end of the semester…
    • I honestly don’t really wanna do it…but it’s definitely a vital skill that I don’t have yet. I gotta learn how to put together a research poster at some point 😅

I think that these changes will help to make this class more enjoyable overall. The class sure does have a lot of potential to be an awesome class…hopefully that potential will be realized this semester.

Welp. Gotta get back to studying now.

I hope that you had a great weekend and that you have a stellar week!

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain

– Black Man, M.D.