Class of 2020
Alexis del Vecchio
As a native of Nashville, Tennessee, I have grown up around country music. The older I have gotten, the more I have appreciated the words of some songs. Their poetic tunes reach down into my soul, and they send my thoughts deep into my memories. The lyrics take my mind down some backcountry road in my truck with the windows down and the sun shining above. I pass by old memories and witness the love, sorrows, and joys of experiences that I have had over the span of my short life on this earth. This Saturday afternoon has proven to be one of those days.
The stress of medical school is something that every medical student can attest to. With so much information to memorize, it can break you down. I have spent hours studying general concepts and minute detail with the hope of using it one day to help alleviate someone’s pain. I find it very ironic that those who seek to dedicate their lives to treating others can endure such a substantial amount of physical, emotional, and even spiritual stress along their journeys. I will be honest and say that medical school has been very difficult for me – nights alone studying, separation from my family and friends, and many headaches from trying to understand all that is known about one’s health.
After waking up this morning to a sunny sky, I isolated myself inside the medical school for a long day of studying. After keeping my head down in my neuroscience notes, I decided to walk outside this evening and recline on a bench for half an hour to let my mind wander and take a break. As I stared up at the Carolina blue sky, I closed my eyes and felt the gentle breeze hit my face. I began to hear the words of one of my favorite country music songs entitled “Those I’ve Loved” by Eric Church.
The lyrics took me back to my grandfather’s death seven years ago. My grandfather was one of my best friends – he was my number one fan. He never missed one of my sporting events. No matter what happened out on the field or court, it was never my fault. I was always a winner in his mind. He was inspiration to me. Even in his old age, he made it a point to exercise every day, visit all his grandchildren, and love his family with a full heart. He is the type of man whom I aspire to become one day.
My grandfather was a private man. He never talked about his personal problems or health concerns with anyone. He always wanted to be a symbol of strength and good faith to his wife, children, and grandchildren. So, you can imagine what it felt like when our family saw him begin to suffer. He was diagnosed with a neuromuscular degenerative disease that began to slowly shut down his body. I witnessed my grandfather go from the muscleman with a “six-pack” to a man confined to a wheel chair over the course of several years. I never thought that I would see such a strong person have to suffer from a disease in which he had no control. I never grased the reality of what was occurring, until he was placed in hospice care at the hospital. I visited my grandfather one afternoon with my family, and I walked into a room to see one of my best friends unable to move or talk. Trying to hold back a flood of emotion, I still remember holding his hand and looking up to see his face.
I could not take it. I walked out of the room with tears running down the side of my cheeks embarrassed to let the medical staff see me break down. I went into an empty room and cried for what felt like several hours. I looked down at my hands that had just embraced my grandfather’s dying hand to see them shaking uncontrollably. I began to realize the finality of the moment. My grandfather would pass along from this life soon, and I would never see him again. He would be gone forever.
A week later, I received a phone call from my father after school informing me that my grandfather died peacefully with my mother, aunt, and uncles at his bedside. I remember very vividly saying OK and hanging up the phone. I was emotionless and felt cold, isolated, and hurt. He was gone.
I still remember attending his funeral at my church back home in Nashville. Each grandchild walked down the middle aisle into the sanctuary and laid one rose on my grandfather’s casket. I was given two roses – one to place down on the casket and one to give to my grandmother. I remember crying in front of hundreds of people as I gave a rose with that same shaking hand to my grandmother. I sat throughout the service with my head in my hands unable to look up at what was happening. At the conclusion of the funeral, I helped carry my grandfather to the hearse. At the funeral grounds, I helped lower my grandfather into the ground, and all of the grandchildren placed those same roses down on his casket before they began to cover him up with dirt.
Following his death, I was overcome by the emotional support that my teachers, friends, and random strangers gave to me. I began to work through the grief, and I found myself able to move on from his death. Yet, I never felt like I ended things the way I wanted with my grandfather. So, I decided to drive to the cemetery alone on a rainy afternoon to say goodbye.
I remember standing alone in front of his burial site with the rain pouring down upon us. I stood in front of him and could not find anything to say in that thunderstorm. I did not know what to do, so I began to pray and speak with him. I promised him that I would never let anyone stop me from living out my dreams. I told him that I loved him very dearly, and that he meant the world to me. I promised him that I would work unceasingly to alleviate the pain from my fellow brothers and sisters as a physician one day. I promised him that I would never give up.
At the moment, I felt him in the rain. I felt his gentleness in the wind. I felt at peace.
This afternoon seven years later, I felt him again in the cool air. The country music tunes in my head led me past his tombstone in my truck once again. Despite the stress of school, he brought me back to peace. I now remember the words I said to him that rainy day back home, and I feel rejuvenated during this time of stress. I know that I can endure anything with his love.
He is one of many that I have loved along the way.
I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee before heading to Furman University for my undergraduate studies. Football brought me to South Carolina, and I participated on the varsity team for a little over a year before deciding to focus more of my time on my studies and community involvement. I graduated Furman in May 2014 with a degree in Religion, and I believe that my background allows for a unique perspective into the lives of patients. I have been wanting to practice medicine since my youth, and I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the USC School of Medicine Greenville to pursue that dream.
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