Friday, June 26, 2015

Climb On

I only started rock climbing because my friend needed someone to go with…its next to impossible to rock climb alone. Even with an automatic belay (a contraption reminiscent of a medieval torture device) its just not as fun and frankly not as safe. Plus having a buddy means you have someone to talk with about how hot the other climbers are- basically a win win.

Even though I was roped into climbing (get it…roped in? I slay me) its actually been pretty fun, even though I’m not very good at it. It turns out that not only is climbing kinda cool, its also a perfect metaphor for medical school. Indulge me.

When I first started climbing I would get stuck and instantly want to be let down. My hands would get all sweaty and I couldn’t hold on. Coming down is easier—that way I wouldn’t risk slipping off and looking like an idiot dangling in midair. Good thing Sundip insisted I try at least one more time to grab back onto the wall. Lots of cussing was involved, but at her insistence (and refusal to lower me down) I always tried at least once more.

Now that I have been climbing more often, when I get stuck or slip, I try to get back—because I know that a 90 pound Indian girl will beat the crap out of me if I don’t. And because I know she believes I can. I know what she would say, because she’s said it so many times before, “you got this, try again, you can do it.” She also tells me that my ass looks sexy from the ground—what a pal.

The challenges of rock climbing also extend to the person holding the rope. Even with the system of pulleys, which mitigates the persons body weight (you know physics and crap) it still takes effort to hold onto the rope and not drop the person. Try holding a certain Navy Seal 150 feet off the ground and you’ll know what I mean.

When I feel the sting of the rope against my hands and my arms ache, I remind myself I am lifting that person up. Physically the rope I am holding is pulling on their harness a little bit—but I’m lifting them up in other ways too. I never take my focus away from the person climbing. If I were to look away, even for a few seconds they could fall and get hurt.

It’s a rare thing in our day to day that we give someone else our undivided attention. I’m trying to be better about giving my full attention to others—not just those who I have suspended up by a nylon cable, but everyone I talk to. Its tempting to cut conversations short, to look at my phone or to interject about my own life. Rock climbing reminds me what showing someone undivided attention looks like, and how important it is.

Some of our classmates have faced some very difficult things in their lives as of late. We must hold them up. Our actions, our words, our demonstrations of love towards them—like a harness wrapping around them, we shall lift them and hold a little bit of the weight of the burdens they must carry. We can’t climb the wall for them, but we can encourage them from the ground, show them our love and do what we can to hold them tight.

When I see the selfless actions of all of you --my beautiful classmates, it is comforting and reassuring that should any of us stumble, we will be suspended in light and love and held there until our tired arms feel strong enough to hold the burdens in front of us once again.

Holding each other up is not only important when scaling a rock wall—its vital to getting through medical school. I wish I didn’t need other people’s help. I wish I could float through life, never needing to ask for favors or advice or pep talks or forgiveness. But the truth is that I can’t. I need lots and lots of help and I need it most when I am least worthy of it. I think there is an unspoken rule that we should be able to do this alone, and that’s just not true. No one is successful alone, no one does medical school alone and no one rock climbs alone.

If you’ve ever been climbing or watched other people do it, then you’ve probably noticed there is a little exchange between the person climbing and the person belaying before any rock climbing actually happens. It goes like this…

Climber: “Belayer ready?”
Belayer: “Ready.”
Climber: “Climbing”
Belayer: “Climb on.”

Not only do I think it sounds super cool to know the lingo, these words have come to mean more to me than just asking the other person if they plan on dropping you. Its like a little promise you make aloud to that person. “I’ll keep you safe,” “You can trust me,” “I believe in you.” We don’t often say these things out loud to each other, and so these words have become sacred in my mind. I promise to catch you, to hold you up, to not let go. 

I wish you all the most wonderful year. Be fearless in reaching your goals and throw yourself yet again into learning. You will not fall, because we are holding you. Climb On.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

White Like Me

By Trevor E Cline, MS2

My friend gave me this space to write, and write I shall.

I thought long and hard about what I would write that would forever remain on the internet. Should I fill it with memes and jokes? Somber remembrances of difficulties overcome in medical school? As I sorted through my thoughts, yesterday night, an unspeakable tragedy unfolded in our country. It struck me right in the heart as a white medical professional. These are the words in response to the act of unspeakable terror Dylann Roof perpetrated against our society.

This post began when I looked into the eyes of cold blooded hatred:

This is the face of our racist Caucasian history, a moniker of centuries marked by people that share my skin color perpetrating some the greatest evils humankind has ever seen in my own America.

In that face, my first thoughts were I wish I could disassociate myself. I wish I could write Twitter hash tags like #notallwhitepeople. I wish I could say that I am a social justice advocate, colorblind. I wish I could look at my African American friends and ask for their blessing to not group me with this heinous human.

But in reality, in that face and eyes I see myself. My light colored irises. My European heritage. My skin color. The privilege that I, like Dylann, have exercised without even tacit mention. The history our skin color carries. In short, in that murderous countenance I see myself.

What can I do with the countenance of a terrorist? What can I do with the skin color of blood, of cultural death, of imperialism?

I will tell you my friends. First, I will own Dylann Roof. He is as much a member of the white privileged elite that have ruled this country since it’s founding as I am. Let’s acknowledge that Dylann Roof is the most recent entry in an encyclopedia of horrors inflicted upon African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others written by white men. He is a white man, like I am a white man, born of the oppressor and heir to the invisible crown of white privilege. He is our ethnic shame, white heritage’s most recent grotesque addition to an already distorted tapestry of hate, destruction, oppression, subversion, and oblivious kingship of American society. As a white physician, I will own the pain he has caused. As a professional treating people, I will own the face that looks like mine.

What can I do once I own Dylann Roof? I, and I argue we, must do what many have not been able to do – abdicate our privilege. Whites like me – abdicate your privilege and throw your body upon the gears of society to undo it.

How can we possibly do that? I think we must be unafraid to tell the world of the horrors of white rule and privilege in the United States. We must let our black brothers and sisters heal in a way that they, not us, see fit. We must let our minority brothers and sisters speak for their own communities, their own histories, and lead the charge to re-write our nation’s racial narratives and scripts. We must be servant to their leadership as allies, not as usurpers dominating the airwaves and television screens of our country proclaiming to be the voices of healing when we are still the root of the problem.

As a white physician, I think I, and I will argue we, must accept our minority patients’ well-warranted scrutiny and earn their trust with excellence. As white physicians we must see this act as societal violence at the highest level, strengthening the cancer of racism and ignorance that continues to destroy our republic. We must make guns harder to access for the clearly deranged. We must create a functional mental health system to prevent these violent outbursts of deeply harbored sociopathy from claiming more lives. We must make health care, already a human right, an actionable human right, available to all at a reasonable price and the best quality. We must stand with our minority brothers and sisters and cash in the political capitol our MD affords us to right these wrongs.

These things we must do. For these lofty and many actions are the only way I can look into Dylann Roof’s face, my face, and have the audacity to call myself an American. It is the only way I can make myself a citizen of the same country as Martin Luther King Jr., Atul Gawande, Cesar Chavez, and the 9 in Charleston that senselessly lost their lives. I am Dylann Roof, white like him and born of similar ancestors. I openly own him and disavow him.

And now I invite you, my friends, to join me in finding a way to make Dylann Roof history and not future possibility. We whites all must if we wish to truly be a place that judges humans on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Trevor is a medical student at UC Davis, he can be reached at

Monday, June 1, 2015

Does this blog make my butt look big?

You know that stupid Special K commercial? The one where women step on a scale and instead of seeing their weight, the magic cereal scale displays a word—like JOY, HAPPY or some other emotion I have never felt whilst stepping on a scale. (If that doesn’t ring a bell you can watch it here.)

Well I hate that commercial. More than being a pathetic attempt to get body conscious women to buy over priced breakfast food, the ad plays on one of the biggest fears of most people…standing on a scale for all to see.

Frankly I’d rather do anything else. Forget my pants perhaps, attend a performance of long form improv, get stranded at an airport or constantly worry whether I turned off my hair straighter.

We are our own worst critics—skilled at finding physical flaws we are certain make us hideous and unlovable creatures (ugh my nail beds suck). Being self-critical spans gender, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and educational level. While self-awareness can be helpful—for example reflecting on whether you acted like a dick at a party--the problem comes when the pendulum swings too far towards self-loathing.

In an attempt to find scientific fodder for this blog, I researched the mental health consequences of stepping on the scale. At the bottom of my Google search- under articles about whether pooping and then weighing yourself makes a difference (it does…here’s the article you weirdo), I found a study showing the more you weigh yourself, the worse you are likely to feel. Shocker.

I’m not really surprised that in our Kardashian dominated world, we get hung up on our physical features, especially weight--this is particularly (although not exclusively) true for women. But as medical students, we are all in a weird place when it comes to bodies…both ours and other peoples. From breast implants to helping someone with their dark purple stretch marks or short stature or urinary incontinence, medicine thrives on helping people feel better about themselves. Our patients are seeking help because their bodies aren’t perfect and that my dear friend is because our patients are human beings, just like us. Not forgetting your humanity in medicine means showing empathy to patients, but it also means showing empathy towards yourself.

Everyone has something they dislike about themselves, and yet we seem hell bent on appearing perfect in both appearance and performance and when we feel as though we are not able to live up to the impossibly high, waxed, plucked, spray tanned, knows the answer to every question, perfection we want, we feel the need to publicly belittle ourselves.

Submitted in evidence for the jury, exhibit A. Charge: Felony self hate talk:
Karyn and I worked at Tepati this past Saturday and when we finally had a moment to sit down, Karyn offers me half her protein bar. I launch into a tirade about sugars and carbs and how I can never allow myself to eat either one again after imbibing in a full fat mocha that very same morning. She listens to be bemoan my thunder thighs and could pass for pregnant stomach. I was just about to ask her if she thinks I have moon face when she interjects, “I have heard our classmates say the most horrible things about themselves—things they wouldn’t ever say about anyone else and I’m tired of it.” I look at her slightly stunned. I know exactly what she is talking about—not only was I just doing it, but I have heard plenty of my beautiful, smart, talented classmates do it too.

I have to say—it feels really good sometimes, especially when other people join in. We work ourselves up, like sharks on a feeding frenzy of self-flagellation. But its actually a damn shame. Not only because we could be spending our precious minutes of conversation talking about something useful—solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict perhaps? But also because we are making it okay to berate ourselves for being and looking human—something we would never do to anyone else.

If my hatred of feel good cereal commercials is any indication, I am sure as hell not under any delusion that a mantra, quote or blog post can silence those crazy negative feelings. But as Anne Lamott says, "I naively believe that self-love is 80 percent of the solution, that it helps beyond words to take yourself through the day as you would with your most beloved mental-patient relative, with great humor and lots of small treats.