A pulsing pain surged through my head. As I floated in the water of the makeshift pond, it became apparent. I was concussed.
That day, June 16, 2018, is what I consider the most significant day of my life. For a long time, that injury led me to live in constant fear. It was unlike anything that had ever happened to me before. I jumbled my words. My movements were uncoordinated. Even my vision was blurry.
My entire functioning was off, and I didn’t recognize who I was anymore. The worst part was, four months later, after I had completed my physical therapy and been cleared for sports, I was immediately reinjured in my first soccer game back.
All my issues returned, and I sunk to an even lower low. Despite this, I didn’t let it stop me. I’ve been a doer my whole life, so I wasn’t content just giving up. I couldn’t play contact sports, so I took up rock climbing. I wanted to learn more about people who had gone through what I had, so I began participating in concussion research at UT Southwestern. I found so many ways to adapt and grow, even in the face of my biggest adversity. Years later, I’m still recovering in some ways, a constant reminder of what I went through. Nevertheless, this obstacle is evidence that even my biggest challenges couldn’t deter me.
We entered the tiny room, pitch black, except for the light of a small lamp in the corner. The light had to stay off; turning it on could cause an elevation of symptoms in the patient. We gathered our data from the man and hopped on the bus from the hospital back to the psychiatry research branch of UT Southwestern Medical School.
This was a weekly thing for us near the end of my research term.
Research is a perfect example that good things are not immediate and, in fact, most good things must often hit a hard low before they can soar to success.
Every day, I read studies and articles about concussions. When we finished for the day, I took home material to enhance my knowledge for the next time. Despite my hard work, we hit a lull. My mentors and my projects weren’t gaining as much traction as we had hoped, and our Citrix analyses didn’t show the correlations we had anticipated.
It appeared that I might have to finish my time there with nothing to show for it. This defeat did nothing but motivate us more to succeed. We worked double time; we upped our analyses, found more resources, and looked to shift our research in different directions.
By the end of my sessions there, I had created a poster, published two articles, and had one pending about concussion research. In addition to this, I learned a great deal about the rigors of the research process and a topic I was passionate about.
“It doesn’t look good; we’re going to have to take it out,” Dr. Rohn stated gravely in the operating room. A general cleanup surgery was now a lifesaving thyroidectomy. I stood beside him as the three-hour surgery became four hours.
This was an unprecedented turn, something he had said would be a worst-case scenario. Every day doctors are faced with sudden but urgent challenges that require quick thinking. These dilemmas can have severe consequences if not acted upon promptly and decisively. When I shadowed Dr. Ku and his team of ophthalmologists, I saw another example of this.
A man was undergoing a cornea transplant, a one-and-a-half-hour major eye surgery. Had the doctor missed a calculation by even one millimeter, there was a chance the man would go blind. Even when the stakes are not as high, doctors face daily problems that, if not solved, can lead to serious issues.
Dr. Meiser allowed me to listen to several patients’ chests. They were all definitely wheezing, sometimes the problems originated in just one lung, but many had problems in both. “How’s it sound?” he asked. The answer was obviously not good, but they’d be fine for now.
If Dr. Meiser didn’t act swiftly, however, the patient could develop pneumonia or worse. Even though I wasn’t facing these doctors’ challenges, I was experiencing them. Their decision-making was so sharpened that it seemed nothing could phase them, even when people’s lives were on the line. They could and would overcome any challenge that came their way.
To be a doctor, one must have a number of qualities and abilities.
Empathy, intelligence, and commitment are crucial traits that every doctor must have to be successful. However, there is one trait that stands above the rest. One of the most important aspects of an effective doctor is the desire to be challenged and overcome difficult situations. I feel I’ve exemplified that throughout my life. Whether it be through those experiences, starting clubs, organizing teams, or helping those less fortunate than me, I haven’t backed down.
In my 23 years, I’ve been put in so many positions where I could’ve failed, and sometimes I did. Nonetheless, I’ve never let that stop me. Nothing I’ve seen has deterred me, which has instilled in me the idea that nothing will. No matter how great the challenge, I’m up for the task.
Jack Straub is a medical student.
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