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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outside, told them I was in critical condition and called a helicopter. Meanwhile in my ER room, I am getting AED pads stuck to my torso as my blood pressure drops. I was then told that the shock would hurt a little which was the understatement of the year. Every nerve in my torso was turned on, and I instinctively curled up with my knees coming in towards my chest. Then, just as quickly as it started, it stopped, leaving me to wonder what had just happened.

I felt a million times better though–my heart was back to normal and the pulse in my neck was gone. However, I did feel like I had taken a plunge in an icy Maine lake in the dead of winter. I was holding my chattering teeth apart so they would not hit each other and break. The heated blankets in the hospital are lifesavers–they make all the difference in the world to a cold patient.

Even though my heart had converted, I was still flown in a helicopter to the closest major hospital. The hospital I was currently in did not have a cardiology unit, and they did not want to deal with anymore cardiac emergencies. The helicopter ride went fine despite the turbulence. The nurse and paramedic then wheeled me from the landing pad, and I was offered a dollar discount off my ride since they bumped into a wall while pushing me. I told them it would need to be a lot more than a dollar to make that helicopter flight affordable.

In the hospital, I finally lost the remains of Thanksgiving dinner. The room was madness in their hurry to transfer me from the helicopter bed to the hospital bed. My parents arrived shortly after me, and my mom spent the night in the cardiac ICU with me.  Everything happened so fast, and I never truly realized how bad things were until after the fact. I guess the scariest patients are the ones who seem fine on the outside, but all the tests are telling you that something is wrong on the inside.

The next day, the doctor took me off the amiodarone because I was beginning to be bradycardic rather than tachycardic. I had to keep the IV leads in my arms in case anything happened according to ICU protocol.  IV leads are not comfortable and the needles in your arm prevent bending your arm at the elbow unless you want to feel the needle moving. I spent the rest of Black Friday discussing options with my physicians and nurses about the best course of action. The nurses and doctors called my cardiologists from home to ask them their opinion, and the consensus was that I needed to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) put in as soon as possible. Once you have a tachycardic event you are susceptible to have future events.

My experience at the hospital was a good one because of the wonderful medical staff.  My nurses came in to check on me and my parents every hour. They told me I was their best patient, but I guess it is not too hard when you are one of the few patients in the ICU who is conscious enough to have a conversation. One of my nurses even came in before my surgery to French braid my hair so I would not get blood in it. My nurses were also my greatest advocates in getting my paperwork completed quickly so that I could be discharged before seven o’clock to go see the musical Wicked that night with my family. The doctor thought the musical was a great idea since I had to sit still somewhere so it might as well be at the theatre.

I am very lucky to still be alive today. You never think that it will happen to you until it is too late. My medical emergency has already made a difference in my dad’s life.  He has been postponing getting an ICD for fifteen years, and my incident opened his eyes. The doctors said that I was able to last so long in ventricular tachycardia because I am young and in shape. My mom turned to my dad after they made that comment and told him he was not young or in shape and that it was time. He did not argue after that.  My experience in the hospital has taught me so much about the patient’s experience, and I know that I can use that knowledge to help my future patients.

Despite the chaos of events and the turmoil of emotions, I am grateful for my experience. I viewed the medical field through the perspective of a patient and saw how the dedication and empathy of the medical staff can make a difference in the lives of their patients. Every nurse, doctor, and technician in the hospital inspired me to strive to be the best physician possible. I am honored to be joining their ranks and look forward to working beside them.           

“That could never happen to me!” is a phrase most of us say about near death experiences, especially when you are in your twenties.  However, the reality of the matter is that medical emergencies can happen to anyone, including you and me. I learned this lesson the hard way when I went into ventricular tachycardia for several hours on Thanksgiving Day last year. As a medical student, I am learning how to diagnose and treat all kinds of conditions and diseases, but studying medicine does not always prepare you for being an inpatient at a hospital.

Thanksgiving started with an overabundance of pies and a mountain of turkey. My family went for a walk after dinner. It was so much fun being outside–laughing and goofing off. At the end of the trail there was a park, and my siblings took off running in a full-on sprint. I chased after them, running faster than I had in years, just loving the feel of my feet pushing off the ground, not standing a chance at catching up to my long- limbed siblings. My heart was racing by the time we made it across the parking lot, but I assumed it would slow down like it normally does. It never did though.

I kept telling my heart to slow down–hoping it would stop racing. It had raced before, but never for this long. I sat outside with my dad, hoping the cold weather would help.  Then I sat inside on the couch, shifting positions–sitting, laying on the couch, laying on the floor, leaning into the tripod position.  My body temperature started fluctuating from one extreme to the next–hot, cold, hot, cold. And then I felt nauseous, ran to the bathroom and lost all of Thanksgiving dinner.


The veins in my neck had a pulse of their own. I had convinced myself that the problem would fix itself like it had always done before, but this time was different than before. Two hours was way too long for my heart to be beating this fast.

My parents drove me thirty minutes to the nearest emergency room, and along the way I succeeded in throwing up even more of my Thanksgiving meal. I did not think that there had been anything left after the first time. I sat in the waiting room of the ER for several minutes. My heart was racing, but I did not look too bad on the outside.  I was fully awake, talking normal, making jokes. When the nurse triaged me, he had a difficult time taking my pulse because it was going so fast. I was brought to a room, told to change into a gown, and waited again. I was attached to an EKG machine and a peripheral IV. My heart was beating at 240 beats per minute at this point, and the ER staff did not understand how I was still conscious after two and a half hours of tachycardia.

The physician gave me two doses of adenosine to restart my heart. However, adenosine only works to fix atrial tachycardia, not ventricular. Up to this point the ER had been relatively calm and only a few nurses and the physician were in my room.  However, when the adenosine did not work the doctor pulled my parents


Kara Jolly is a second year medical student at the University of Kentucky.  She is from Merrimack, New Hampshire, and has a BS in Biological Sciences from Clemson University.  She is currently considering a career in pediatrics or Med-Peds.