My name is Jamie Wright. I volunteer with the Hydrocephalus Association (HA) as the leader of the Houston Community Network and I have hydrocephalus myself. In addition to my volunteer work with HA, I am an MD/PhD student at the University of Texas at Houston Health Science Center. I am currently in my fourth year, having completed three years of training to become a doctor, and I am now taking a “break” to complete my PhD in biomedical research before finishing my last year of medical school.
In December 2014, I was given the opportunity to accompany Dr. David Sandberg, Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, and his pediatric neurosurgery team to Port Au Prince, Haiti, where we performed an incredible 25 surgeries in less than five days. I knew going into this trip that it would be unlike anything I have ever experienced, but that does not even begin to describe it. In this blog series, I hope to share with you at least some small part of this incredible experience. Each blog is themed by a different emotion I experienced on my trip. I hope you enjoy them!
Mixed Emotions: Nerves
by Jamie Wright
Despite my excitement at the unique opportunity to be a part of helping children affected by hydrocephalus in Haiti, as the day to leave approached I became increasingly anxious. This would be my first time visiting a developing country. Up to that point, the farthest I’d traveled out of the United States was Vancouver, B.C. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only thing I knew for certain was that my imagination could probably never do it justice, so I tried not to let it wander.
In addition to being my first venture to a country completely unlike my own, this would also be the first time they were having a medical student accompany the team. Dr. Sandberg, the person who invited me, and the neurosurgeon leading the trip, told me himself he was not sure what I would be able to do. He assigned me the role of “Chief Photographer,” despite the fact that I lacked any experience with photography, and a camera, for that matter. Would I be able to make myself useful? Would I just be in the way? Would he regret bringing me along?
Then, add to that the fact that I am a medical student. I’m not sure how much experience you, the reader, have with hospital hierarchy, but when it comes to where people are on the hospital totem pole, medical students aren’t even above ground. The life of a medical student is quite the balancing act. Balancing trying to show your Attending Physician what you know while making sure you do not say or do anything to make your Residents look bad. Balancing trying to be helpful to your Residents while not being labeled a brownnoser. Balancing trying to be thorough and address your patients’ concerns without being inefficient. And, finally, balancing keeping your sanity while having little control over when you went home, ate, slept, or even used the restroom. Would the group be accepting of me being there? What will it be like hanging out at the airport or sitting around the dinner table? Will this be just another balancing act?
I’ll admit, in the days leading up to the trip there were times when my excitement started to melt into dread. What had I gotten myself into? In those moments I would remind myself of three things. First, Dr. Sandberg invited me to come with full knowledge of what I am, and am not, capable of doing. Secondly, this was an opportunity of a lifetime to see first-hand the extremes of the very condition, hydrocephalus, that led me into medicine in the first place, be a part of providing life-changing treatment these patients would otherwise not have, and share their story. Thirdly, a piece of advice that has always served me well, attitude is everything!
As it came time to head to the airport, I actively set my anxieties aside. I let myself get excited despite my fears and set out to not only thoroughly document the trip in pictures, but make myself as useful as possible. Over the course of the next several hours, as we made our way from Houston to Miami and then on to Haiti, I realized just how unfounded my fears had been. Yes, I was the lone medical student of the group, the least knowledgeable and least trained person there, but I was the medical student who was invited to be there. I was the medical student who had already shown herself to be passionate about helping people with hydrocephalus, and I was the only person in the group who knew first-hand what it was like to live every day with the condition we would be treating. This was going to have to be a team effort, and I was part of the team.
Other blogs in the series:
Mixed Emotions: Nerves
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