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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I will never know the man in the dark blue sarong and he will never know the way that he has inspired my passion to become a doctor. I have dedicated my life to global health and thus far, it has taken me from the rolling grasslands of the Serengeti to the snowy foothills of the Himalayan mountains. I have studied the hospital systems of Ghana, Tanzania, and India, as well as the healthcare systems of countries around the world since my undergraduate years. Throughout my journey as a physician, I have taken special interest in diseases associated with stigmatization in American society, including obesity and metabolic syndrome, with plans to pursue Med-Peds endocrine and global health as the obesity epidemic spreads across the globe.  We often take our health for granted as we live our lives day-to-day and it is only when we are sick that we truly understand the impact of our health on our life. Those with stigmatized diseases live with this burden on a daily basis and it often leads to withdrawal from society, depression, and disability, just as I had witnessed as a five-year old child. The single greatest goal of my career as a physician is to help give people their health back so that they may support their family, contribute to their society, and have access to meaningful opportunities, without the burdens of a stigmatized disease. To the forgotten man in the blue sarong on a platform in Calcutta begging for sustenance, I thank him for inspiring me to take this journey as a physician, and although he does not remember me, I will always remember him.

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. He looked around aimlessly, holding his deformed hands out, begging for food and money, as people rushed around him with occasional looks of disgust and pity. I was only five-years old at the time and despite the hustle and bustle of thousands of people rushing past me to board the trains, the smell of samosas and paan being sold on the platform, or the loud train horns blasting around me, all I could focus on was this strange-looking man. Why does he look like that? Why will no one help him? Before I could give any more thought to him, my mother whisked me away on to the carriage and I watched the man shrink into the distance as the train slowly pulled away.


About ten years later, I was a sophomore at Brunswick High School waiting for Mrs. Lopez to start the movie, The Motorcycle Diaries, during our third period Spanish class. As the movie played and narrated the life and adventures of Ernesto Guevara, the Argentinian physician turned Marxist revolutionary also known as “El Che,” I became curious about his time as a volunteer doctor in a leper colony deep and isolated in the forests of Peru. I could not help but to wonder what it was about leprosy that caused these people to be marginalized and quarantined away from society. After I returned home that day, I furiously googled leprosy.

BY PRIYA S. SRIVASTAVA, MD

All of a sudden, the images of those affected with Hansen’s disease sent me spiraling back to that day at the Calcutta railroad station. Those opaque blue eyes, those deformed and shortened fingers and toes – it all made sense. The man in the dark blue sarong was dying of leprosy.


I began to read about the marginalization of people with leprosy throughout history, at the same time, learning about modern day quarantining of people with HIV/AIDS in various parts of the world. How could these people be segregated from society because of a single type of bacteria or virus that can be treated? How will they ever be able to take care of their family or themselves if no one wants them around and they are shunned from society? If they had never contracted this illness in the first place, what kind of life and opportunities could they have experienced? These questions swirled in my head and I kept thinking, if only there was someone who would just take the time to treat these people and help them reintegrate into society so that they may never be denied the many opportunities in life. Alas, it hit me–I was meant to be that person and thus began my journey as a physician.

PRIYA S. SRIVASTAVA, MD

Priya is a 2nd year Med-Peds resident from Brunswick, Ohio with a long-standing passion for global health. She is an avid traveler, learner, and proud dog-mom. Her personal goals in life include specializing in med-peds endocrinology and starting a global health program to provide consistent and efficient care to those in isolated or remote parts of the world.