Monday, March 26, 2012

It Wasn't Medstudentitis--A Guest Blog by Sarah Guthrie

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”- Scott Hamilton

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Christopher Robin to Pooh – A.A. Milne

One of the first things you hear going into a medical program is medstudentitis- where the student of medicine reads about a disease and suddenly experiences every symptom! Of course it has to be some of the really bizarre or rare ones- like alien hand syndrome or a teratoma. And every headache is a brain tumor.

So when I started vomiting the day after the Fourth of July, during my second semester, I promised myself I would not overreact. I was determined to keep calm. After all, I am a 29 year old woman and certainly knew better than to assume the worst for a simple stomach bug.

I should have known better. I remember one of my nurse practitioner’s telling me that in typical medicine, when you “hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras”. This saying reminds medical providers that the most likely and obvious answers are the right one. Except, with me, the zebras- those rare and less likely answers- seem to fit. In my three decades I have endometriosis, psoriatic arthritis, and hypothyroidism.

Two months, 20 pounds, an EGD, CT, and a gastric emptying study later, I learned I have gastroparesis. It is believed to be post-viral. The diagnosis didn’t stop the vomiting and at the end of September I was hospitalized with malnutrition and dehydration. I weighed less than I had in high school- and didn’t look my best!

Physician Assistant school is considered a grueling master’s program without additional challenges like constant vomiting. Like many professional master’s degrees, it is a “lock-step” program. I had to complete the didactic (classroom) portion with my class or repeat the entire first year.

TPN- total parenteral nutrition- has allowed me to stay in my program. While I did miss a week for the hospitalization and several individual lectures for doctor’s appointments, I have managed to stay in my program and even excel. Instead of using this as my excuse to drop, I met with my instructors to confirm my continued desire to get my degree. The majority of people I have met were enthusiastic and my academic success has silenced the naysayers. I won’t deny that at times it looked like stopping was the best plan- but I have been wanting to get my degree for years and I have chosen to use my own internal strength to keep going to school.

Going to school with a PICC line was a bit challenging. First- timing my TPN. I have had to attend lectures wearing my TPN as well as bring supplies for weekly dressing changes. The faculty gave me a location to get my dressing changed and labs drawn.  Since I am in a medical program, I have been very honest with my classmates about my health and limitations. During our lecture on TPN, I actually gave a “show and tell” presentation and home TPN and held a Q&A for them. I hope this honesty will aid them in being top medical providers.

I made it through my didactic portion and no longer have to worry about restarting my degree!

The next challenge has started- clinical rotations. The faculty has continued to support me by keeping my rotations within an hour drive of my medical providers. I supported myself by convincing my doctor that it was time for a port. I figured out that I could not do a surgical scrub with a PICC line- so this past week I had my powerport placed.  I don’t think my post-op nurse was impressed when I told her I would be at my clinical rotation the following morning instead of relaxing.

Gastroparesis has shown others what I already knew about myself- I am a strong woman and am capable of reaching my dreams. I am thankful for my medical providers and access to TPN. I have been on TPN for 6 months with no end date planned at this time.   One of my biggest smiles is when I have people tell me that I don’t act ill- I look at each day as a pleasure. I am not depressed and accept that, at least for now, my celebratory steak dinner may not be in my future. But I also know that gastroparesis will not stop me from becoming a Physician Assistant.

About the author:
Sarah Guthrie, PA-S; 2nd year Physician Assistant Student in GA. Sarah is married and thankful for the support of her husband, family, and faculty. Anticipated graduation is May 2013

1 comment:

  1. Good for u and your determination! Unfortunately, I had to drop out of school. A few reasons, including my dizziness and fogginess caused by my lack of nutrition. Also, I basically feel like I have the stomach flu 24-7. I've had a nissen wrap so I cannot vomit or burp, therefore I have no relief from the nausea. But, I have every intention on going back to finish my degree. My goal is to graduate with honors even though I have this condition. And to show others that it can be done, just as you have. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, it put in my mind that obtaining my degree IS possible.