San Diego, CA
My day begins with the last day of May on the gloomy San Diego hour of 9 AM. I’m the last to get up out of my co-research assistants (surprise, surprise – I love sleep). We landed in San Diego yesterday at around 3:15 PM (PT), and as planned, today the agenda holds:
9:00 AM – Wake up & get ready
9:30 AM – Walk to Little Italy
10:30 AM – Eat brunch
12:00 PM – Catch the ferryboat leaving for Coronado Island
12:30 PM – Tour Coronado Island
3:00 PM – Go back to the San Diego Convention Center to change and get ready for our presentation
4:30 PM – PRESENTATION BEGINS
5:00 PM – PRESENTATION ENDS
5:15 PM – Uber to Sunset Cliffs
What actually happened:
I wash my face, brush my teeth, and realize that I left my white maxi skirt, which I specifically bought for this trip to match my white crop top, in the dryer back home. To my luck, I brought an extra outfit, which consists of a navy blue bralette from Hollister, a blue flower print maxi skirt, and white wedges. I quickly put my hair up in a bun, put on a little bit of makeup, grab my bag with my clothes for the convention, sunglasses, and camera, and head out the door.
We find a cute place called Harbor Breakfast right on the entrance of Little Italy, where I order the Fried Egg Sandwich with added avocados and hash browns on the side (9.5/10 would recommend). After breakfast, we walk over to the train station and buy a one-way ticket to the convention center because, why not, right? We soon find out that Texans are not cut-out for public transit, for we take the right train going the wrong way and miss the 12:00 PM ferry to Coronado Island. It literally would’ve been quicker just to walk to the Convention Center at that point.
Nevertheless, we arrive at the Convention Center, where we run into a swarm, and I really mean, a swarm, of men in suits with badges that have their Last Name, First Name, MD. My initial thought was, “holy sh–, that’s a lot of doctors,” followed by “holy sh–, there’s not a lot of female doctors in the vascular surgery specialty.” Calling all the female aspiring physicians out there to pursue WHICHEVER specialty YOU want!!!!! Just because the field you want is male-dominated, that should be the least of your concerns in regards to stopping you from going for it. I was overwhelmed stepping foot in front of the convention center, mainly because of the repeating overhead signs that said, “Vascular Annual Conference 2017 San Diego,” like wow, I’m actually in California to present the data I have collected alongside two other intelligent and passionate women for the clinical study I started?!?! It was all too surreal.
I had to recollect myself before we went on to look for the ferryboat ticket booth. Finally, we board the 12:35 PM ferry and sail off to Coronado Island. We take pictures on the top deck, and before we know it, we’re on the island. Coronado Island is literally a place for tourists to eat, shop, and take pictures on the tiniest beach right by the dock. Since we just ate, we were able to fight the urge to give into the Mexican food aroma in the air. With nothing much else to do but stroll and take pictures, which we already did, we take the 1:35 PM ferry back to civilization.
When we get back to the Convention Center, we run into the vascular surgeon we conduct research under, Dr. S (I’m not entirely sure if I’m allowed to say his name here). We exchange happy “hello”s and “I can’t believe we’re actually here”s, and then he kindly invites us to dinner with a couple of other doctors at 6 PM. Obviously if you were paying attention to the content of this post, we now don’t have time for Sunset Cliffs, but I mean, a dinner with doctors? I’m not one to complain and pass up the opportunity to network with top-tier physicians. Dr. S. reminds us that we should be in Room 1 on the second floor by 4:00 PM. At this point, we had an hour and 45 minutes to kill. So, to Gaslamp we walk.
Gaslamp is the night-life version of Little Italy. Lots of places to eat, but a while lot more bars. Sadly, we were all underage. So, we find a coffee shop, instead. I was still much too full to even drink anything with more than a spoonful of sugar, so I utilize this time to charge my phone. Out of nowhere, an eccentric man in his thirties, Leonardo, begins to spill the story of his life. The only thing I really got out of the one-sided conversation we had was that he wanted to pretend to be poor, just like his friend who built her own house in the woods…apparently. I was too busy going over the presentation in my head to fully give him my attention. He leaves the coffee shop, and I finally get the chance to leave my seat to change into my business formal clothing. At 3:30 PM, we begin our trek back to the Convention Center. My feet are now begging me to relieve it of its agony, so I temporarily switch my heels with my flat sandals. When we get to the Convention Center, my co-research assistants change in the bathroom, while I call Zan, Dr. S.’s son to meet us by the bathroom, so he can lead us to register for the event. Registered and ready to go, we take pictures with our badges in front of every possible sign that says, “Vascular Annual Conference 2017 San Diego,” and we head upstairs.
Since our presentation was later on during the day before the exhibition day, the turnout wasn’t too much, but enough to get my heart rate up about 15 beats higher than normal. Okay, so many of you are probably wondering what our research study is about.
As of right now, although it is much better for the patient to be a BKA (below-the-knee amputee) for a prosthesis, our hypothesis states that the higher you cut above-the-knee (AKA), the better chance that the patient survives. This is because, as a vascular surgeon, Dr. S. has noticed throughout his 30+ years of practice, many BKA patients come back for an AKA. So far, our data has mostly shown this trend with patients with BKA. They usually develop gangrene on the same leg or develop them on both legs, and they come back for a higher cut. There are many more factors to this, of course. We keep track of the patient’s age, weight, height, BMI, gender, type and date(s) of surgery, if they have diabetes, end stage renal disease (ESRD), hypertension, hyperlipidemia, HIV, if they and how much they smoke, drink, take recreational drugs, and the list goes on. Since this is an amputation to ambulation clinical study, we also keep track of those patients who end up getting a prosthesis, the length of the prosthetic leg, and whichever level of prosthesis that they have (super complicated to explain, if you really want to know the details, leave a comment). Since the surgical amputation realm has historically not been known to be advanced, the ultimate goal is to get some answers as to what the best surgical technique is to use on specific patients, such as diabetic patients, trauma patients, and so on, so that those patients can hopefully get good level prosthetics that will better their quality of life even with a missing limb, and also, so those patients do not come back for another cut due to infection or lack of blood flow.
After the presentation, we ride an Uber back to our AirBnB to change into a nice dinner attire. I wear a lavender dress and nude heels, and I straighten my hair. We take an Uber to Cowboy Star, a steakhouse in which looked super sketchy from the outside, but inside, well, it was fancy. Dr. G is Dr. S’s colleague, and he was the first one to arrive. He meets us by the host’s stand, and again, we exchange our “hello”s and “how are you”s. As the host sits us down, Dr. S., Zan, and another doctor, Dr. I. arrive and greet everyone. You know it’s a fancy restaurant when the waiter places the napkin on your lap, and the filet mignon is not even close to the most expensive thing on the menu. I glance over the $200 steak and I do a double-take. Two hundred dollars? For a steak? That steak better be made out of gold. The waiter serves us something on a spoon that we first thought was (because it looked like) cow tongue, but turned out to be radish purée. Next, they serve the first ever rolls that beat Texas Roadhouse rolls for me. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. Finally, I order the filet mignon, cooked medium well. While we waited for our entrée, Dr. S. broke the news to us and said that other medical groups from around the country are jumping on board to join our study! I could not even begin to say how good it feels to see something you start in a break room to expand nationwide. With all those groups joining, our patient number would climb to more than probably 3000+ patients. With an access to that large of a database, we will begin to find some answers and maybe come up with new ideas and theories.
When we got our steaks, Dr. I. wanted to order us wine! Of course, we told him we were underage, and he said that back in his day, 18 was the legal drinking age. He then told us the funniest stories from his residency that you would not expect a doctor to talk about. There I realized that I’ve admired doctors so much that I’ve forgotten that they are people too – human beings with feelings and a past and stories to tell and a future. Dr. S. kindly paid the whole check of many, many, many dollars – a number I am afraid to say. The dinner was everything I could have ever asked for. By the end of it, we were not just colleagues, we were friends, who now can avoid the awkward small talk in the future.
If I learned anything on this trip, it’s this. If you want to go into medicine, you have to dive into it, head first, with your arms wide open, soaking every bit of what it has to offer. You have to not only work to save lives, but also, you have to be innovative and take initiative. Because, bettering human life doesn’t only happen in the operating room, it happens in the lab with research, whether you are looking for a cure, a better technique, or better equipment and tools. As a doctor or an aspiring one, you have to act critically, think outside the box, and read between the lines – and you have to own it.
I could not be more grateful for Texas Vascular Associates and the opportunities that this group has been able to give me. This trip was eye-opening and truly inspiring, and I can’t wait for where this study goes and what else the future has in store for me.
“There is a way to do it better. Find it.”