Class of 2020
Alexis del Vecchio
I have wrestled with this blog post for months now. After the circumstances of this past year, many have asked me to write a blogpost… to tell my story… but frankly I have just wanted to forget this past year.
For the many not aware of what happened, let me tell you. I began medical school in July of 2018. As real classes began in August 2018, I was not able to adapt to the intense stress like my classmates were. My body began shutting down in response to the stress, and I was experiencing severe numbness on my right side. Our school placed an emphasis on preventative healthcare so I decided to see a doctor in October, at which point I had begun throwing up regularly in response to stress, as well as experiencing vision loss and intense headaches. After a lot of physical therapy, complications of care, and a second opinion, an appropriate diagnosis was made: an intradural lipoma that had caused a tethered spinal cord, with additional complications. It was not that I was weak and could not handle the stress, it was that the tethered cord had caused a Chiari, so my body physically could not handle any stress.
I was born with this lipoma and had been experiencing this reaction to stress and chronic pain/paresthesias since I was 15, after my spinal cord was jolted in a soccer game allowing my condition to reach a “critical state”… Honestly, I thought everyone was in just as much pain as I was but that I was the only one who could not handle it well. Normally individuals with this condition get diagnosed at birth or around 10 years of age but since I had other situational factors to consider my medical issues were brushed off until I was 23 years of age, a very rare occurrence.
After a quick turnaround, I had neurosurgery to release the tension of my spinal cord over spring break (As you grow your spinal cord ascends but mine was stuck on this tumor and had just stretched out instead so they went in and unattached it from the tumor to release the tension). I was in the hospital for 8 days, laying at 180 degrees… and then had further complications, a CSF leak, that led to multiple procedures and another 12 days at 180 degrees. Additionally, I had a lot of side effects to the medications I was on, including anxiety, depression, and the scariest dreams I have ever experienced.
On the day M1 year ended (oh yeah, miraculously I passed the year), I flew out to the Amazon River Basin for a medical mission trip with two of my classmates. I was terrified, as I had not made a full recovery yet and was physically and emotionally depleted. I only had minor issues on the trip, but it was nice to see every little detail work out, including one of the doctors being a neurologist who was able to ensure I was well taken care of. It was also incredibly refreshing to serve when I was so emotionally depleted because I was reminded of my passion and purpose in life: to help others.
That is the short version of the what happened my first year of medical school. There are many more details so please feel free to reach out if you have any questions!
Now to the meat of the matter… This is the part of my blogpost that I have immensely wrestled with. What do I write about? What part of this horrible circumstance will impact others? Do I write about how hard it has been, even though many others in the world have it so much worse than I do? Do I write about the 8 years of pain and the isolation associated with that? Or do I write about the people who rallied next to me, with barely knowing me, to ensure I succeeded in my M1 year?
Honestly, I am unsure so I hope I chose the right thing to write about.
Currently, I am still in recovery. Over the course of 4 months I weaned off the medications I was taking. I still have a lot of neural issues and my medical team has no idea when or if I will fully recover. I wrestle with the idea that this is no one’s fault. Additionally, I wrestle with who I am now… so many look at me and tell me “you are so strong”, “you are my hero”, “I do not know how you do it”… but what people do not see is the physical pain that I still have daily and the fears of not knowing if or when I will recover… or not knowing how this medical condition will affect my career as a physician.
The reality is that this is a broken world. I may have a rare medical issue that is the equivalent of being struck by lightning but there are other individuals, in our OWN community, in even more pain. How are we, as professionals, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, and humans, pushing past our sufferings and our struggles to ensure we are helping others? Are we pushing ourselves to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced to ensure someone is being well cared for? I am a living testament that if some of my classmates had not separated themselves out, inconvenienced themselves, sacrificed their time and other resources, I would not have finished M1 school year. I would not have been able to go to the Amazon and I most definitely would not be studying for the many exams of M2 year. It is individuals who strive for the success of others that separate themselves from the good people to distinguish themselves as excellent. Those classmates who rallied along side of me separated themselves from the good future physicians to distinguish themselves as excellent future physicians.
So my closing thought for you… have you paused and looked away from yourself to others today? People are being “struck by lighting” every day, all around you and they may not be able to get through it without you taking a chance and shining a light into their lives. I hope my story will challenge you to go and be a light because being “struck by lightning” is a dark place to be.
About the author: Victoria Vazquez
I grew up in High Point, North Carolina but my family is originally from Mexico. Growing up with 5 younger sisters always willing to go explore anything and everything, I became a lover of all things that involve adventure and good food. I graduated from North Greenville University in 2017 with a B.S. in Biology. I love meeting new people, reading good books, and exploring with my dog, Skie. It has been an honor to be a part of USCSOMG and I am excited for what my future in medicine holds!
Photography courtesy of Raychel Simpson, Class of 2020
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville