HOW I FOUND MY RHYTHM WHEN THE MUSIC STOPPED

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.

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THE MAN IN A BLUE SARONG

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.

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PATIENT “OWNERSHIP”

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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the alleyway with my hand poised on the gate of our family compound. I can feel an emotional flood building on the other side. My daughter knows I’m coming this week but doesn’t know I’m here, today. Even though we’ve video chatted, I know little about who she has become in my absence. I swing open the gate and two of my nieces come running. Soon my daughter follows behind. She looks upset. I’m trying not to cry. Minutes later she livens up and contorts herself into various yoga postures to impress me. She snuggles into my lap. The year of separation starts to melt away and I’m left with the present moment in hand like a precious pearl. My daughter is unmistakably Ghanaian, from her mannerisms to her accent. My husband joins us a week later. In his wake it’s evident the way he is empowering his family. As they say in Ghana, hand go and hand come. For every good, good follows. The family supports us in turn and the circle is complete.


Did I sacrifice motherhood to medical school? Did my daughter sacrifice her mother‘s presence for Africanity? Did my husband sacrifice family time for the American dream? Sacrifice is reaching up to catch the future and dropping something in the process. But what I thought I had dropped in my life, love picked up. When I reached for my future, my amazing in-laws helped my daughter reach for hers. People who love each other uplift each other. What looked like sacrifice actually lifted us all to higher states of self-actualization. My husband’s business grew. My daughter came to know her Ghanaian family, the culture and the language. I moved closer to becoming a physician. Recently I asked my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up- “A doctor like mommy and a ballerina.” Her cousin shot back telling her to choose one or the other. I gently told her there was no need to sacrifice. She could be both.

Here I am turning into the alley I know so well. I spot the neighborhood holy man and beggar with his alms bowl. The restaurant he sits alongside is bustling. The matron calls out to me from behind her steaming peanut and palm nut soups. Next door to her I pass the charcoal seller. I smile and jump over the open gutter fronting her roadside business. My heart is beating faster now as I approach my destination. At the threshold of the house I reach out to the wrought iron gate with trembling hands. I’m here to surprise my 6-year old daughter who I brought to Ghana one year ago to live with my in-laws.


Pause and rewind. I am a fourth-year medical student at UK who continues to battle my inner demons about the choices I’ve made in life. When I was accepted to UK College of Medicine, my husband couldn’t follow me to Lexington. His Seattle-based export business supported an extended African family and I understood our separation was a sacrifice both he and I had to make; for his obligations and for my aspirations. My four-year old daughter accompanied me to Kentucky and I started the life of a single mother. There was an ample amount of scheduling flexibility built into the first two years of school and this enabled me to spend afternoons and weekends with my daughter. We danced, we biked, we hiked, we lived a normal life. Well, somewhat normal except for the glaring absence of my husband. He came to visit occasionally but it was not the same. My heart was rent in two, but my daughter, alongside me, seemed to make everything whole in spite of the separation.

BY LEILA MENDE

I couldn’t have survived the first three years without tons of help. My fellow students and my roommate babysat and braided hair. Another major source of support were my Dutch neighbors who became close friends and had kids my daughter’s age. I felt utterly destroyed when they moved away in December of my third year of medical school. When it rains it pours. At the same time, I was due to start a number of clinical rotations with working hours that would make single parenting impossible. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place. I couldn’t run from the tough choices thrust upon me. My daughter had spent time in Ghana before. She knew her family there and spoke the language. After painful deliberation, I decided to take a one month leave of absence and travel with her to Ghana’s capital, Accra, to settle her into life and school there. My in-laws were happy and believed my decision showed I truly cared that my child know her roots and not grow to become simply an American. Western expectations regarding nuclear family and child rearing haunted me and caused me to battle with my choice.


Fast forward a year later. It’s February 2019 and I have completed a whirlwind tour of family medicine residencies. I’ve arranged an international rotation at a pediatric hospital in Accra with the goal of reuniting with my daughter. I hesitate in

LEILA MENDE

Leila is a fourth-year medical student passionate about primary care and excited to be specializing in Family Medicine. She calls Hawaii home but bleeds blue because she was born in the Bluegrass. Her deepest loves are music and travel.