It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.
I was fortunate to be able to attend medical school at one of the premier institutes of India- Christian Medical College or “CMC” in the tiny town of Vellore in Tamil Nadu. This was a dream come true for me. As I lived and learned the next half a decade in South India, I grew to admire the work of my teachers and colleagues and even more, the spirit of my patients-often destitute, illiterate and in the poorest of health, have the determination, fortitude and strength of soul to heal. I saw compassion in the way the doctors treated the patients and a trust that we would do right by them in the eyes of the patients.
We had many community-based rotations that were enormously enlightening for me. We went into small villages, interviewed the people, organized educational programs for the villagers and all the while they taught us about overcoming obstacles with grit, fierce loyalty and a generosity that I have not seen matched. Our trips to the villages with donated medicines were eagerly greeted by families in need of much more than we could provide. They always seemed satisfied somehow- it may have been the cheerful nodding and reassuring smiling, for I did not speak their native South Indian dialect. These years held a host of life-changing experiences for me, ones that shaped my world and now are coming full circle.
I moved back to the US after working another year with my parents, to forge my own path and find my own way. I came back to Chicago, the city I had grown up in and completed a Pediatric and then an Emergency Medicine residency, both at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I worked with inner city children and adults who suffered from a multitude of illnesses. Sometimes, we may have made a slight difference, its hard to say. There were clearly hurdles that we were unsuccessful in addressing and surmounting, such as lifestyle and social stressors, because many of these patients came back to us time and time again.
I graduated as the Chief Resident for Pediatrics for the UIC EM residency and joined on as an attending physician at a general community ED in the heart of ‘Wrigleyville’. I met my husband, an ED nurse there and together we worked many long and hard shifts. I served as the Pediatric Education Director for the University of Illinois at Chicago for several years. I learned a lot during those years fresh out of residency and I am grateful to have had the experience.
During this time, we volunteered to work in a critical care hospital in Port au Prince, Haiti after the earthquake where we saw miracles amidst tragedies, the power of family and what happens when the basics of life are in ruins. It was a short stint but an intensely rewarding one.
While we were working hard, we were playing hard too! We were fortunate to be able to travel to many different parts of the world absorbing the culture and spirit of different traditions. It was an education in and of itself and helped to broaden our minds’ reach and kept us eager to learn more.
The next chapter in our lives began with the adoption of our son, Jacob and he brings us light and life and love with his every smile, his every breath. We feel so very blessed! Now we get to see the world anew through his innocent eyes and hope to grow with him in mind and spirit.
For the last 3 years I have been in the emergency department at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. I think it was working with our nation’s veterans and seeing the number of chronic complex conditions they lived with, were treated for and yet never made any headway in, that I realized again how important lifestyle was as well as the mind-body-spirit continuum if they ever were going to move towards healing and health.
After nearly fifteen years of practice in the ED, I fully acknowledge that there is a time and place for an emergency room visit. However, I am also acutely aware of how many issues are ill-served there. To further expand my knowledge and "toolbox", I completed a fellowship at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Weil and became a Certified Practitioner through the Institute for Functional Medicine. I am a registered Yoga teacher, trained in Hatha Yoga at the Temple of Kriya Yoga. I am also the Integrative Medicine Task Force lead at the Chicago VA as the paradigm shift slowly but surely becomes a reality for the veterans. To this purpose, I was recently appointed as a Whole Health Education Champion on a national Patient Centered Care Integrative medicine patient initiative from the Veterans Health Administration.
So, my spirit feels more balanced and content, and I hope to share that feeling with my family, patients and community. It would be my great honor and immense privilege to do so. Namaste.
Life is a journey, not a destination.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson