Keeping Faith After Losing My First Patient

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July 14, 2016, was the day I lost my first patient: my dad.

My dad was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2012 while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. The illness climaxed during my first year of medical school. Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is characteristically seen as tightening of the skin; cold, discolored fingers and toes; numbness; and respiratory distress, with death stemming from renal failure, heart failure, or both. My dad’s illness was straight out of the textbook, and his journey drives me as a medical student and future osteopathic physician. He labeled himself my “first patient”–always keeping me informed of his ever-expanding lists of medications, chemotherapy transfusion schedules, scleroderma drug trials and research, and doctor appointments. The joy he had in knowing that one day I will have an impact as a physician kept him going, and that is what drives my love, compassion, and service in the medical field.

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I’ve been a daddy’s girl my whole life. I have so many fond memories of playing with his ears or holding his hand or leg or simply resting a hand on him always. My dad is where I first learned the power of touch, the importance of serving the community selflessly, walking by faith, and being a light wherever you go. I could talk for days about all the experiences we had through the years, but I think what’s more important is what my dad put back into the world. He was someone who was known for going above and beyond, no matter who was watching. He didn’t do anything for the spotlight or recognition; he just wanted to genuinely and whole-heartedly serve others. I hope I can demonstrate even an ounce of his dedication, courage, and genuine care as I live my life and work in the field of osteopathic medicine.

Walking into my first classes of second year, two weeks after my father’s death, is something I’ll never forget. This was the moment I broke down. I realized, for the first time, that I have never fully understood mental health and the necessity of self-care. I had to admit my weakness, be vulnerable, and seek help. I knew I would need a social-support system to physically help me through the next three years of my education. This was also the moment I realized I was just where I was meant to be.

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As I navigate the grief process while in medical school, I have learned to treasure taking time for myself as well as putting faith in people around me who uplift me when I can’t see I’m fading. As medical students, we are infamous for putting ourselves last – myself included! We will all face adversity during our medical training. It is essential that we make sure that, no matter our circumstances, we appreciate each step in the journey, take time to tap into our core passions, and remind ourselves of the reasons we are pursuing medicine.

Although It has taken me time to get to where I am today, I am thankful for the ways my dad’s life has enriched my life and contributed to my medical career. My dad epitomized traits that I long to emulate as an osteopathic medical student and physician–service, humility, and genuine care for his neighbors. My journey through this year has been one of faith, resilience, and humility, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Written by medical student Zuri Hudson, Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine.