“I have finished the work, which You have given Me to do.” —John 17:4
Greetings future healthcare professionals!
After a very long hiatus, I am very happy to share with you the update on my journey as a medical student.
To those who have been following my journey, thank you for your support and kind words, spoken and unspoken. One of the many things I learned during my matriculation through professional school is that support is paramount. No man is an island, and if one tries to be, one area of your life will suffer for it. In short, ask for help when you need it. Seek a mentor, a therapist, a friend, a pastor, a financial advsior, and certainly seek God.
I have seen firsthand how not seeking help can be detrimental because I went through it myself. One reason for my silence in posting during my fourth year of medical school is due to an incident that occurred at the end of my third year.
After completing my third year clinical rotations in London, U.K, I realized I had some time left over to partake in a voluntary international elective. I am interested in global health and plan to volunteer as a medical missionary for at least a few weeks a year. For the first time, I was also in a prime location geographically to travel to Africa cost-effectively. As with all my major decisions, I wasted no time to research and sign-up for an amazing opportunity to rotate thru an inner-city hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with Work The World. I chose two weeks in Pediatrics, two weeks in OBGYN and one week in a faraway village. Those five weeks would take place in December/January, meaning I would be spending Christmas, New Years and my birthday in unfamiliar territory. How exciting!
Sub-Sahara Africa was definitely an eye-opener in more ways than one. I was emotionally taxed by the preventable deaths I witnessed due to the shortcomings of a 3rd-world healthcare system; however, I was increasing my medical acumen by being more hands-on with cases that are far more advanced in presentation than I would ever witness in the West. These cases included malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, HIV, gastroenteritis, viral illnesses, very premature infants, etc.
Then, the unthinkable happened. On December 26, 2012, I was preparing for a presentation that I volunteered to do for the residents. Unfortunately, my program’s accommodation did not have WIFI access so I went across the street to conduct my research. Only steps away from my home on my return, I rounded a corner and immediately saw the man who would attack me.
Let me preface by saying that only seconds before, a voice in my head told me to cross my cloth-bag, which contained my valuables, over my shoulders. I refused to listen because home was seconds away, but the voice was relentless. Therefore, I crossed my bag over my shoulder, and seconds later, the eyes of the man that would attack me is now burned into my memory. He reached out and grabbed my bag and my first reaction was to instinctively resist and scream. He pulled at my bag and I clutched it harder and screamed louder.
It was dusk, and the streets were filled with a large post-holiday crowd, marching down the street. I screamed in desperation for someone to help. Finally, I noticed a group of young men walking towards me. “Praise God,” I thought. They would help me.
To my utter shock and disappointment, instead of pushing my attacker away, they were also attacking me to try and get my purse. This brought attention to me, as a crowd of young men pushed, punched, and kicked me. Unfortunately, the extra attention brought on more vagabonds that were now removing my clothes in the middle of the street. In the end, there were about 20 men attacking me. I was numb and hovering above myself. I thought I would die that night. I just kept screaming, crying, resisting, and watching the gate of my home that was literally steps away, wondering why no one would help. Finally, out the corner of my eyes, I saw an old man yell something from afar in Swahili, waving them off, and just like that, all the men surrounding me dispersed, walking away as if nothing had happened. I never saw that old man again.
I limped home, crying, angry, disheveled, clothes tattered, clutching at my ripped handbag, which they were never able to take from me. That very night, I wanted to leave the country. I made plans to leave early after the necessary police/hospital/embassy runs, but changed my mind hours before my flight. I wouldn’t let those criminals win! I will finish what I came here to do! And I did.
The next three weeks in Tanzania resulted in my delivering 11 babies, saving a baby’s life that was born in distress, vaccinating a whole village, going on an amazing safari, swimming with dolphins and celebrating an unforgettable birthday. It was an extraordinary journey. However, the lingering post-traumatic stress was very evident when I commenced my fourth year in New York. Any man that walked towards me on the streets of NY were possible attackers. In such a crowded city, this was every day, and it affected my mood. I thought thru sheer willpower I could get through it. Unfortunately, it led to isolation and a depressed mood, which negatively affected my studies. After much introspection, I decided I needed to take a step back, take some time off, recuperate, and seek help. This help came from my amazing church family in New York and although things were bleak on the outside, my renewed faith in God led to a calmer spirit.
I was worried about not graduating with my class, however, what kind of physician would I be if I didn’t take care of myself first. Studies show that a good number of medical students and doctors face depression or other mental health issues but keep it to themselves for fear of being an outcast and considered unstable. The results range from compromised healthcare delivery, troubled relationships, substance abuse and even suicide. The stigma has to end!
If you have read my previous posts on what it took for me to get here, you would soon understand that this journey was never meant to be simple for me. I was faced with major setbacks for years. It is not superhuman strength that allowed me to finish. It is a relentless tenacity and a remembrance of where God has brought me from in the past.
The song says: “I just can’t give up now. I’ve come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy, but I don’t believe He’s brought me this far to leave me.”
He hasn’t left me yet, even when the enemy tries to whisper in my ear that God has. You are your worse enemy. Only you can extinguish your goals and desires. The moment you stop, it stops. I hope to encourage you that you may pause, but don’t ever stop. I was almost done with medical school when things went haywire. I was very discouraged and wanted to go into an eternal abyss and never come out. I plastered on a smile but inside I was shattered. My first semester thoughts of being an impostor came back full-throttle. But I was so close!
Therefore, like the last leg of a marathon on a hot, humid day, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
Step, step…pause…step, step…pause…step, sip some water…pause…step, step, final step…finish line!!!
I can proudly say that I am now Natacha Pierre, M.D, as of August 2014.
My journey is a living example of the old adage: “If I can make it, so can you!”