At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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sound more sinister. We took little notice of it. Less than a minute later, a waiter appeared on the patio, his face twisted with panic, “Is anyone a doctor? Please, come help!” He ran off, a towel falling from his apron. My dinner companions, many also classmates, stood up simultaneously. We pursued the excited waiter, who led us to a man sprawled on the ground.

His motorcycle lay in a tangled mess beside him. A good portion of his blood lay in a puddle under his right leg. An open fracture of the tibia was the clear culprit of a nicked artery that needed immediate tamponing. One of us held pressure, the others checked pulses. Soon the ambulance arrived. We went inside to wash our hands.

There is always too much food at my family’s Thanksgivings. After second helpings, the only recourse is a seat on the couch and desperate attempts to fight off the drowsiness that ensues.

No sooner had I claimed my corner of the couch and let my eyelids begin to sag than I felt the small weight of something in my lap. I opened my eyes to a collection of “Pat’s Pharmacy” pill bottles. Lisinopril, simvastatin, metformin. The bestower of the bottles was apparently my grandmother, who sat beside me nervously wringing her hands.

“Well now, my doctor retired. Why he went and did a thing like that I’m not sure, but he set me up with this new doctor lady, see? And I went to go see her this week for the first time, and, well, she’s just so young, you know? And she talks so fast. I just couldn’t really make out what she was saying and what these new pills are for, you know?”

As she talked, I stood her little family of pill bottles at attention in a line across my lap. Starting with “the little pink ones,” we got her all sorted out.

It was terrible weather for a race. What had satisfied itself to be a drizzle during the opening announcements had turned into a steady rain as I stood in line for the pool. Now, on the return trip on my bike, the rain had called in its windy companion and together they created Hell for the riders.

Each of the cyclists coming toward me wore the same expression: squinted eyes, tucked heads, grimaces. Every feature locked in mortal combat with the forces of nature that had also shown up for the triathlon this morning. A steady stream of water sprayed off the rear tire of the rider ahead of me.

We were so nearly there. A steady descent, a couple of flat miles back on the major road and we were home free, back to the land of dry clothing and hot coffee.

The racer in front of me had entered a sharp turn in the descent. As he leaned in to it, I watched the angle between his bike and the pavement grow acute. Suddenly the angle closed precipitously. Out of the blindness of the turn a pothole had sprung up, swallowing his front wheel, throwing him from his bike. I watched his helmet hit the pavement with sickening force and his body land, extremities akimbo at unnatural angles.

For so long I gripped my brakes before my bike finally started to slow, hydroplaning on the flooded pavement before finally coming to a stop. With the awkward clip-clop of my bike shoes on the asphalt, I ran back toward the fallen rider, unsure of what support I could lend, but knowing my finish line was no longer a few miles off, but right here, at the back of an ambulance I prayed would arrive soon.

Sometime around the end of my third year of medical school I finally came to understand that when I chose medicine, I necessarily relinquished a privilege much of the working world enjoys—the ability to clock out at the end of the day.

But, each occasion that I have been called upon to participate in the care of a loved one or stranger outside of working hours has been an honor. Perhaps to focus on what was given up, rather than what was gained by the giving up, is to misunderstand completely.   

Finally—I was so blessedly close to sleep. So far, my eyelids had been closed for the first four hours of our sixteen-hour international flight. So far, this had failed to yield the desired results. Flight attendants rolled up and down the aisles, distributing mediocre dinners and drinks to already weary travelers. Passengers tripped over my feet as they stumbled to and from the restroom. At last, everyone had begun to settle. Reading lights were switched off. Soft snores filled the cabin. Then the terrible shrill beeps of the airplane’s PA system rang out, “Excuse me, but we have a passenger onboard who has become quite ill. If you are a medical provider willing to assist, kindly come to the front of the plane at this time.”

I opened one eye and peered out. No one had stood up. No one seemed to be making an attempt to do so. I plucked out my foam earplugs, doffed my scratchy Ethiopian Airlines blanket, and headed toward my new patient.

I had “met the parents” numerous times now. The initial intimidation, the sense of having to be on my best behavior ought to have worn off, but still it had not. We sat around the dinner table sharing small talk and ziti. As the plates were being cleared, his dad got my attention and proceeded hesitantly,

“So, he tells me you are about to finish medical school.”

“That’s right. I’ll finish in May.”


“Well, I’m not really sure how much of this you’ve had in school, but I went to the doctor today and had a question. Maybe you could help?” He looked somewhat abashed.

“I’d be happy to try.” He scurried off to his office and returned quickly with a packet of papers, which he deposited on the kitchen table.

I sifted through the read-outs of an echocardiogram, an EKG, and a host of other lab tests. He pointed out a phrase in the echo that had concerned him, “hypokinetic left anterior ventricular wall…”

As I went in search of a piece of paper and a pen, I saw my boyfriend standing in the living room holding Settlers of Catan, his eyes pleading with me to let it go so we could play. I sat down and began to draw a truly terrible 3-D representation of the human heart.

Even though it was well into autumn, it was still warm enough to sit outside. The glasses sitting in front of us had long been empty, but still we sat, laughing and catching up. Then, suddenly, a loud noise. A thud, not like metal on metal, but a


Sarah Bugg is a Lexington native and is currently in her final year of medical school at the University of Kentucky. She is pursuing residency in Internal Medicine-Pediatrics and is eager to find out shortly where the next four years will take her.