My African driver springs to his feet.
“Pass me another baby, I think this one has died.” I lay the dead infant in the pile by my feet. What I’d really like him to do is pass me an ice-cold bottle of the local beer. Compassion is hot, thirsty work. There is no ice in this wretched refugee camp, mores the pity, but as I’m here to help I will suffer in silence. I stare into the eyes of the African baby who is suffering from HIV or dengue fever or something gross and look out into the hot, dusty savannah and ask, “Why? Why gender-neutral and non-judgmental Deity (or Deities) does this have to happen?”
“And Why, Mbuto, is the air-conditioning on my Land Rover broken again?”
“One thousand pardons, Sahib, but the parts have not arrived.”
I will suffer. I have lived a life of privilege and my suffering serves to link me to the suffering of mankind. I roll the window down. God it’s hot. How can people live here? Why don’t they move where it’s cool? Still, I see by the vacant stare from the walking skeletons who insist on blocking the road that they appreciate my compassion and I know that in a small way, I am making a difference in their lives.
Africa. Oh wretched continent! How long must you suffer? How long will you provide the venue to compensate for a low MCAT score? How many must die before I am accepted to a top-tier medical school?
When did I first discover that I, myself, desired to be a doctor? Some come to the decision late in life, often not until the age of five. The non-traditional applicants might not know until they are seven or even, as hard as it is to believe, until the end of ninth grade. I came, myself, to the realization that I, myself, wanted to be a doctor on the way through the birth canal when I realized that my large head was causing a partial third degree vaginal laceration. I quickly threw a couple of sutures into the fascia between contractions so strong was my desire to help people.
My dedication to service was just beginning. At five I was counseling the first-graders on their reproductive options. By twelve I was volunteering at a suicide crisis center/free needle exchange hot-line for troubled transgendered teens. I’ll never forget Jose, a young Hispanic male with HIV who had just been kicked out of his casa by his conservative Catholic parents. He had turned to black tar heroin as his only solace and he was literally at the end of his rope when he called.
“How about a condom, Hose,” I asked. The J, as you know, is pronounced like an H in Spanish.
Annoying silence on the line. Hesus, I was there to help him.
“Condoms will solve all of your problems,” I continued, “In fact, in a paper of which I was listed as the fourth author, we found that condoms prevent all kinds of diseases including HIV which I have a suspicion is the root of your depression.”
More silence. No one had ever had such a rapport with him. He was speechless and grateful and I took his sobs as evidence of my compassion.
“Hey, it was double-blinded and placebo controlled, vato.” Cultural competence is important and I value my diverse upbringing which has exposed me to peoples of many different ethnicities. I always say “What up, Homes?” to the nice young negroes who assemble my Big Mac and I think they accept me as a soul brother.
“We also have needles, amigo. Clean needles would prevent HIV too.”
My desire to be a physician has mirrored my desire to actualize my potential to serve humanity in many capacities. This may be something unheard of from medical school applicant but I have a strong desire to help people. I manifest this desire by my dedication to obtaining all kinds of exposure to all different kinds of people but mostly those from underserved and underprivileged populations. In fact, during a stint in a Doctors Without Borders spin-off chapter I learned the true meaning of underserved while staffing a mall health care pavilion in La Jolla, California.
Most of my friends are black or latino and I am a “Junior Cousin” of the Nation of Islam where I teach infidel abasement techniques to the Mohammed (PBUHN) Scouts. I also am active in the fight for women’s reproductive rights except of course for women in Afghanistan who were better off before our current racist war.
As Maya Angelou once said, “All men (and womyn) are prepared to accomplish the incredible if their ideals are threatened.” I feel this embodies my philosophy best because the prospect of grad school is too horrible to contemplate.