22. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

When I began this course, I envisioned long hours of studying with a few breaks to have a peek at what was going on behind the books. A point that I have come to realize and accept is that while we are studying, occasions such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, births/deaths, or any occasion for that matter for which a greeting card can be written passes by whether we stop to mark the occasion or not. Striking a balance between the demands of student life and those of a ‘normal life’ is something that can be challenging. Somehow in this process it is easy to just think that your life back home is going to be frozen in time and when you return you can pick up where you left off. Sadly, I recently was reminded that while I was busy in the books, someone very dear to me was living her last days of life and she would not be there when I returned home after my time here at NECO.

My grandmother, who had lived with us since I was 8 years old, passed away a few weeks ago. She was not well over the time I went home for Christmas and I saw her transition from our home, to the hospital, then to a nursing home for physical therapy, and finally back home, all within a 4 week period. I managed to travel back to NJ every weekend for that 4 week period and sadly, within that time, I saw her condition deteriorate. She passed peacefully with her 5 children by her side. She was a pious woman and lived an exemplary life. She lived with us for as long as I can remember. She spoke very limited English and so as a child I effortlessly learned how to speak Urdu and Punjabi, which are languages native to Pakistan. I am a first generation Pakistani-American and I credit her with developing my sense of culture and tradition, which to this day I carry forward. She was proud of me, as I am the first of the women in our family to pursue higher education. I referred to her as my treasure trove of prayers, as she would pray endlessly for my success without me even having to ask her to do so. Her loving presence will be missed.

All the while through my grandmother’s illness, I tried to keep up with my studies. This semester we are taking a course called Clinical Medicine and in it we are learning about all of the body systems from the perspective of an internal medicine doctor. Sadly, my grandmother seemed to have many of the comorbidities that we are studying. So even when I was in front of the books, I was thinking of her. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, most of the things that we learn at school can be applied in both our professional and personal life. One of the things that we are not necessarily taught, but as a health care professional it is important to know, is how to give bad news or to have empathy. Fortunately, I feel our profession attracts this type of personality naturally. One such faculty member at NECO was rather adept at demonstrating this concept. I was passing by one of the academic offices and a prominent faculty member stopped me and asked me if everything was alright. Now, there was no way for him to have known about the loss of my grandmother, but something about my sad expression prompted him to ask, “Is everything ok?” It was very kind of him to stop and take the time to look me in the eyes and realize that… no, I was not okay. He even kindly shared his memories of his own grandmother and it helped me feel connected not just to the NECO family, but also in a very human kind of way beyond academia.

My birthday is another event that passed by while behind the books. It was a milestone birthday and it should suffice to say it was not my 21st. I had visions of dancing my way into the next decade, but given my grandmother’s death, I decided to not to mark the occasion. Instead, I spent a quiet evening surrounded by my loved ones at home. There will be many more happy occasions and sad ones, too, to deal with in the coming days, months, and years. So yes, there is a lot happening behind the books. It is up to us to determine what is important to stop for and partake in and what can wait until May 2014. Whatever you decide, never lose sight of those who are important to you, while keeping your eye on the goal of completing your degree program. Manage your time so that even that phone call home or the short trip during the breaks can make for some great memories. I felt compelled to write this blog to encourage you all to every now and then take a peek at what is happening behind the books, so that when you close them, you are still connected to your loved ones and your life beyond academia.

04. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

As a student, it is nice to on occasion stop and reaffirm why it is we sit in lectures and digest information with great depth and at a fast pace. No doubt, building a solid knowledge base which in turn will give us confidence to apply that knowledge is pivotal. Whether it is in a clinical setting, at a community health screening, family gathering, or simply on the street when the occasion rises, so shall we. Case in point, last semester we had a Low Vision lecture discussing how people born visually impaired tend to cope and adjust better to their impairment than people who lose their sight later in life. Within one week of this lecture, I noticed a visually impaired man walking with a white stick. Just so you can visualize the scene, I was walking over the Mass Ave bridge connecting Boston to Cambridge. For any of you who are familiar with this bridge, you know it is usually busy with pedestrians, cyclists, roller bladers and runners all merrily going about their business. As I walked, I could not help but question my own pace when this man whose white stick indicated he was blind was able to effortlessly overtake me, at a fast pace, while swinging his stick side to side. Immediately, I realized he must have either been blind for many years or his vision was not terribly reduced. The former being the more likely case given he had the stick. I was amazed at how fast and confidently he was able to walk. But soon enough, I noticed he came to a halt. I observed as he waited at the edge of the street. He was still confident as he took one step into the street but at the same time it seemed obvious he was conscious of his own limitations of crossing the street safely. But actually after observing him for a moment, I came to realize his hesitation was not about crossing the street, it was about where the bus stop was located. I know this because I saw him stop and ask people. I also noticed how uncomfortable people were with a blind man asking for directions. Some people moved out of his way out of fear of running into his stick as he approached them.

I approached him as he crossed the street and as we were taught in class…I asked him if he would like my assistance. He said he wanted to know where the bus stop was. I said I can accompany him there and then proceeded by giving him verbal instructions. Normally we would offer our arm as a guide, but given his mobility was good, my verbal instructions were enough to guide him to the bus stop. Once we got to the pole that had the bus stop sign on it, I told him to tap it with his stick thereby giving him a cue. He thanked me and I told him I am an optometry student. At this point, I could not help but ask how long he had been sight impaired. My assessment was correct in that he was born visually impaired, but had learned to cope well. He proceeded to tell me that he lost his vision through having measles as a child. This supported my initial observation of how agile/fast he was with navigating the road with his walking stick. This reinforced what we learned in class which was that people who have lived with reduced vision/blindness all of their lives tend to adapt more easily and seem to have better mobility than those who develop poor sight later in life.

This encounter left me thinking about how often we just walk through life not taking note of people’s internal struggles. Being in school and studying these topics is all purposeful and meant for us to apply sooner or later. It felt good to have been confident enough to approach him, especially when I saw many people pass by and not stop. In doing so, I was not only able to apply my knowledge, but also build my confidence that I could keep up with the pace of applying that knowledge in a meaningful way.