When a 33-year-old lies unconscious in front of you, it’s never a good sign. This 33-year-old, female patient was found unresponsive by her family. Despite trying medications for possible reversible causes, she did not wake up. She turned out to be an unfortunate case of catastrophic stroke. By the time I saw her, she had fixed, dilated pupils, no reflexes, and no movements. She was brought to the ICU to do more, only to realize there was nothing more available for her. She was already on a ventilator and the maximum doses of four pressors, which were barely able to keep her BP to 40 systolic. She eventually succumbed to her disease.
“One day at a time.” These exact words I continue to say to myself even after matching and beginning my residency. I had always known my goal was to pursue a residency in the United States. I would read medical books, articles, and other research done in the United States to complement my learning back home. I always thought to myself: “I want to find out how they’re discovering all these new things, participate in them, and hopefully bring innovative techniques back home.”
Each journey in medicine is unique, but all are full of grit, strength, and motivation. I write this blog post in the hopes that you can derive inspiration during your experience as an international medical graduate. By no means is this an easy route, but it is incredibly worth it, and I would not have had it any other way.
It was November, and I was in the second year of my cardiology fellowship when I received a phone call from my brother in Saudi Arabia. It was an odd time for him to call me. I picked up and listened to his frantic voice: “Khalid, our mother had a cardiac arrest. She is in ER! Intubated! Going to ICU. I will call you back… I have to go…I will call you back!” I was at my apartment in Ohio, thousands of miles away, as my whole life was turning upside down. After about 15-20 long minutes, I spoke with my brother again: “Khalid, she just passed away!” Just like that, she was gone.
It is a common refrain that “things get better.” I now strongly believe that is true, but I didn’t always. I went through many ups and downs on my journey in medicine, such as dealing with homesickness, weathering professional and personal hardships, and trying to make good impressions and forge meaningful connections as an introvert. I navigated all of this before I understood that of course things will always, eventually get better—because when you are at your lowest, there is only one way to go: up.