A Doctor in the House
It seems that I have been given the rather arduous task of writing about Myself -- about my journey, my career -- "anonymously, of course," they reassure me.
Easier said than done, I say. I have these flashbacks of applications galore for which I have had to write creative essays on "Why I want to be a doctor/pediatrician, etc.". Slight variations on a theme, as you can imagine!
Right off the bat, I have to confess that there was no magical day when I "decided" to be a doctor. Actually, I have no conscious memory of the transition from my dream of being a toyshop keeper (so I could have all the toys I desired at age 5!!), to being a pediatrician. You see, my father was a pediatrician and I spent the first several years of my life living in the compound of L'elt Tsehay Hospital where my father worked. There was even an infant cereal factory (Fafa Fabrika) in the compound.
Growing up, I would frequently accompany my dad to work and play with the sick and/or abandoned kids in the wards. My favorite recurring image is that of my father walking into the pediatric ward and all the kids' faces breaking into these huge grins as they run towards him as fast as their fat little legs would carry them...don't worry, I won't name names; you kids know who you are.
So, after the glorious years of good ol' Sandford (a whole different story), I joined the mass exodus to Washington D.C. to further my education. Well, medical school in Ethiopia was not really an option (like I said, I went to Sandford, so the best my ESLCE scores could have done would have been to get me into some vocational training institute yonder south in Sidamo or such), so I was promptly shipped off after graduation.
"Education in Washington D.C., Party capital for Ethio-Americans?!" everyone inevitably says to me in amazement. Despite the skepticism, I completed both my undergraduate and medical school education at Howard and resurfaced unscathed by the D.C. experience. And even came back for more.
My clinical years at Howard Med were a truly unique experience. This was a time when a lot of Addis Ababa Medical College graduates came to Howard to do their residencies. So, as a student, I would have interns and residents around me who were Ethiopian. I even had a couple of attendings (those were the head honchos) who were Ethiopian and/or Eritrean. At one point, four out of five of the members on our team were Ethiopian, and we could practically conduct rounds in Amharic! The Med school graduates from Ethiopia were articulate, thorough and great teachers. There was also a great sense of camaraderie and professionalism that I had never before experienced. In retrospect, that was the most important aspect of my Howard experience: interacting with other Ethiopians in a professional and leadership capacity.
During my second year of residency, I decided to do an externship in an "anonymous" hospital in Addis. I was sad that the level of dedication, thoroughness and leadership that I had experienced from my colleagues at Howard were not reflected there. It was not the lack of technology, etc., that did not meet my expectations; rather it was the attitudes and general apathy of the students and residents. I do realize that there are many reasons for this -- social, economic, political ...hopelessness in general... It still makes me sad.
A few years prior to that, I had had the opportunity to visit Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I had spent several months doing research at the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (fun, fun, fun!). To give you the gist of what they do, they develop things like oral rehydration therapy, vaccines against cholera, etc. This was a fascinating experience, particularly in a region with a rich cultural heritage (it dramatically modified my "baboochi banana" approach to the place). They have a dynamic homegrown participative development strategy that is being emulated by other developing and industrial nations -- even Ethiopia.
And then it was off to sunny LA. Upon completing my residency there, I followed my homing instinct and headed back to D.C. (because you KNOW, once you've lived in D.C., you can't live anywhere else...okay, okay, that's open for debate). I had had a couple of Ethiopian patients in LA and I was hooked -- I wanted to come to D.C. and have a practice filled with little Ethiopian kids.
Luckily, my stars must have been aligned that month; I found just that. Well, close enough -- I joined the practice of another Ethiopian pediatrician who had been in the area for many years and had a good-sized Ethiopian clientele. Now I get to see several Ethiopian kids a day, and that literally makes my day (I think it might also make me racist or something!).
But it is not always smooth sailing. There is the language thing, and translations can get a little shaky sometimes. For example, I always confuse the Amharic words for chickenpox, measles and smallpox ( kufegne, fenTaTa and ...?) Conscientious Seleda editors offer up "gudiff" as the third translation...hey, we didn't ALL go to Sandford!. Once I almost alerted the Centers for Disease Control thinking that a mom on the phone was telling me her daughter had smallpox (which had been supposedly eradicated off the face of the earth, except in 2 labs or something. This would have raised a major alarm!). Thankfully, it turned out that the child just had chickenpox (is this a geek joke, it may just be!).
Another time I was a student and was summoned urgently to translate for an Ethiopian woman who spoke no English. I sauntered in confidently and started inquiring what was wrong. "QiTigne new meselegne," she said to me. Well, I had no idea what that was. "Hemorrhoids," I thought to myself, my logic being that it must be something close to the 'QiT'. Needless to say, I made a couple of rapid calls to get the real meaning (my uncle still looks at me rather suspiciously).
Okay, one more story (not a translation one). This is more recent. Sometimes I wear my hair in a style that we Ethiopian girls are famous for, namely the "wet look". Well, that day at work, one of my cute 5-year-old Ethiopian patients had come in for something or another. Later, I called her mom to see how she was doing and her mom said, "Oh, she's fine, but now she refuses to brush her hair and struts around the house with her hair in disarray ("TenCHebara"), saying "Ende docterey!" Well, that took care of that hairstyle.
So, despite the trials and tribulations of years of schooling and now practicing medicine in a managed care world, I leave my office at the end of the day with a smile on my face. Well, most days, anyway.