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Brian Nuyen, MS3 at UCSD SOM

The 18-year old little girl screamed a thin note I’ve never heard before, when I stood in front of her vagina, stricken, to catch her little girl. The boyfriend, sobbing, before he hugged his new daughter, quietly updated his Instagram. Continue reading “Sign out”


Generously republished here by the author, Maryam Soltani, PhD who is currently an MS3 at UCSD SOM. Original publication can be found here at Academic Medicine.

Dr. Soltani's original artwork accompanying her piece in Academic Medicine.
Dr. Soltani’s original artwork accompanying her piece in Academic Medicine.

Out for a walk one Wednesday afternoon, I noticed a woman struggling with her walker to get up some stairs. I offered help. She said, “Can you carry my walker up?” I did. She gradually walked up holding the railing. At the top she told me that she had planned to commit suicide, but I had ruined it for her.

As we walked, she said that although I had ruined her plans to commit suicide, there was always the next block. She added that she was good at attempting suicide but not good at succeeding. I gingerly asked if she was serious. “No, honey, I’m not serious,” she said with a smirk. But it didn’t feel right leaving her. I asked where she was going. “Home to drop off my bag and then go to an AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meeting,” she replied. I offered to carry her bag to her house, and she accepted.

As we walked, the woman, a Vietnam veteran, told me of war, her posttraumatic stress disorder, her disabled knee, family members diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and successful suicides. My heart ached. When we arrived at her house, I told her that I would stay with her awhile and then walk with her to her AA meeting. I noticed that she had a wheelchair. I asked if someone would bring her home if I wheeled her the five blocks to the meeting. I could not imagine her using the walker all that way, so I was relieved when she said, “Yes.”

She asked if I could help with her medications. She pulled out a big sack of bottles containing pills for pain, bipolar, anxiety, depression, cholesterol, and hypertension. The bottles had generic labels and instructions for when to take each medication, but no information about the brand names or the reasons for the prescriptions. It became clear that the woman did not have this information either. She was taking high doses of lorazepam, an anxiety medication, thinking it was pain medication. She told me she was proud of the fact that she had been sober for 22 years and was not taking narcotics to manage her pain. As I listened I thought, “My God, this woman is an alcoholic and drug addict in recovery and is unknowingly taking high doses of benzodiazepines.”

We discussed what each drug was for. I made sure that she took the ones for the day and then wheeled her to her AA meeting. As we talked more, I learned that she was desperately lonely and extremely depressed and feared that her leg would be amputated.People who become seriously involved in AA form lifelong ties as close as family, so I knew that she would be with her extended family after I left her at the meeting. Before I said goodbye, she picked a flower for me and said: “God works in mysterious ways. If you did not come along, my day would have had a very different outcome.”

I only did what felt natural and human that day, but I listened and learned an invaluable lesson in the meantime. As professionals, we use jargon and often fail to realize that others may not understand our language. To physicians, atorvastatin is for cholesterol, lithium is for bipolar disorder, and fluoxetine is for depression, but to most others, these are scrambled pieces of a puzzle. As health care professionals we need to help our patients put the pieces together. In my painting, the elephant is the proverbial “elephant in the room,” which, in this case, represents mental illness. People see it, but they do not talk about it and often walk right past it. Instead of walking past the “crazy old woman” that day, as many undoubtedly did before I arrived, I walked with her.

What does it mean to survive?


I try to look up my patient’s electronic medical record before I go into the room, since I rarely have the privilege of seeing the same patient twice. According to my next patient’s problem list, he had suffered from about every possible complication of HIV, yet recently had been doing quite well.
Continue reading “What does it mean to survive?”

I expected a simple encounter

Harshith (Hershey) Avula, MS4 at UCSD SOM

When I met her sitting in the hallway, I expected a simple encounter. She had come in primarily for a dental concern and was added to our clinic schedule after she expressed some passive complaints of excessive tiredness. Prior to our meeting I had been told by my attending that she was a middle-aged woman with progressive fatigue and some shortness of breath likely due to hypothyroidism, but immediately upon meeting her I realized that there was much more to her case. Continue reading “I expected a simple encounter”

A Great Big Introduction!

Dr. Pritha Workman, Class of 2012 Alumnus at UCSD SOM

It’s hard to come up with one specific example of how I’ve changed as my experience through medical school has been one of ups and downs wherein I feel I have personally changed a lot. However thinking of a formative example, I think back to about a year ago, my husband, a Marine, was deployed overseas. He’s back now and safe, but that’s not the point of this story. Continue reading “A Great Big Introduction!”

Hello and Welcome!

Welcome to Stories In Medicine, a blog created by we – the student members of the UCSD School of Medicine’s Gold Humanism Honor Society. Our mission is to provide a public platform for sharing thoughtful reflections born from the day-to-day experiences members of our community have in the medical world. We hope that our stories will inform and inspire – fellow medical students, residents, physicians and anybody else who is interested in fostering humanity, compassion, and mindfulness in medicine!