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Healing in a Time of Change

By Dr. Roberto Fu

As I stepped out of my plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I had multiple things running through my mind. Relief was the first thing that came to me. The whole process of joining my U.S. training program had been marred with painful uncertainty due to the pandemic, and yet now I was here. The airport was very quiet that day. It was a clear reflection of how COVID-19 was impacting life in the United States. The road to the hotel where I’d stay for the next few days was lined with empty sidewalks and closed stores.

I had arrived on May 26, 2020. That very same day, the death of George Floyd on the evening prior would spark protests and a new chapter in the American story. At its epicenter was the very city I would call home for the next three years of my life. It involved the very community I would serve. My program had worked hard to help us transition into our intern year in the safest way possible, following the COVID-19 restrictions of the time. Quickly thereafter I was immersed into the complex reality and dynamics of American society in one of the most intimate ways possible. I was fortunate to be in an institution that was willing to engage in the conversation while it was happening. My institutional leaders made efforts towards accountability, equity, and justice while we learned and practiced medicine in its halls.

My girlfriend and I at a boreal forest
Ice fishing!

I progressed through learning the ins and outs of the system, the EMR, and presentation. Through my eyes and ears I took in innumerable stories, some of which are still committed to memory. I grew more confident with each rotation but also increasingly more conscious about what my definition of healing meant. In the process, I met so many individuals that I now deeply admire, whose examples I cherish, and which collectively I know are a powerful force of change and education. I now fully appreciate how our residency program strove to give us the tools to try and answer uncomfortable questions about systemic racism, and historical trauma, and its link to disease and suffering.

Due to this process, I have now come to learn how particularly precious our work is. Healing is not limited to the writing of prescriptions or to dwelling in differential diagnoses, nor is it a purely individual or isolated process. Fundamentally, we are bound to understand and experience the human condition in the barest and most vulnerable forms, all within the complexity of social dynamics. This fact was painfully exposed by the inequities in health outcomes during the pandemic. Without the understanding of the variables at play, just plainly treating a medical condition is frequently not enough. At the end, our true goal is to help transform the ugly face of pain, trauma, and disease into opportunities for a human being to experience life at his fullest, to be able to love and care for himself and others. In doing so we strive to help the community heal while it works to correct its own problems.

We are now a year after Mr. Floyd’s death, the pandemic is possibly close to meeting its end and so is my intern year. Being an intern was certainly not easy, but I am humbled to appreciate the personal growth that has resulted from experiencing this all in tandem. It is frankly impossible to compress it all in this essay. The lessons that my patients have taught me, the moments of joy and smiles that motivated me to work harder, witnessing their strength and courage, are all invaluable treasures. I feel fortunate to be a part of these moments.

Sunset at one of Minnesota’s many lakes

I wanted to share these thoughts not to deliver a moment-by-moment narration of what I lived, but hopefully to show you how beautiful and nurturing of an experience this can be. As international medical graduates we have much to share, but also much to learn. Certainly, I am a different person today than I was on May 26, 2020, and I hope to take these lessons with me and to share them with those willing to listen. To this day the difficult conversations and struggles are still ongoing, and decisions made today will ripple long through time. Much like the United States, my country, Honduras, must grapple with its own uncomfortable truths and decisions. I dream of being able to contribute to its self-reflection and progress with this gift that life has given me.