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I went through my coursework and did well, despite losing my mother to metastatic colon cancer in the early part of my second year. By the autumn of , I had done a research elective and three acting internships in orthopedic surgery. When I submitted my application to 89 residency programs, I felt pretty confident about my chances. While I waited, though, something interesting happened.
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In January of , I did a student elective in forensic pathology. I was amazed at how those physicians put all the pieces together to figure out exactly how a patient died. This experience was not my first clinical interaction with pathologists; in my first acting internship, I would often accompany the orthopedic oncologists to anatomic pathology to read the frozen section slides with the pathologist.
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It was positively exhilarating to watch her render diagnoses. But seeing as I was going to be a surgeon, none of this mattered — right? In March of , on a crisp Monday afternoon, I — like residency hopefuls all over the country — hurried to the nearest computer to check my email. I spent much of the following hour crying on the shoulder of my favorite emergency physician. Over the following 24 hours, I re-evaluated what I was going to do with my life.
I knew I had enjoyed my brief interactions with pathologists, and I was fascinated by — and completely in awe of — what they were able to do for their patients. I wondered if my awe and fascination was enough for me to make a career out of it. After much consideration, I decided to give pathology a chance. The next day, I sent my application to pathology programs all over the country.
I received several offers, but chose to begin my training at Albany Medical Center. One of my co-residents was a black woman, but there were no black faculty or, indeed, any other black people in the department. After my first year, I returned to my medical school to complete my residency. While I was a student, there was one black faculty member, a woman, in the department — but by the time I returned, she had retired; two black women were co-residents, but no black faculty. When I became a fellow at a very large academic center in a major city, I was the only black fellow.
Two black women were residents — but, yet again, zero black faculty. I spent time with three during my forensic pathology rotation. I have not had the honor or pleasure of training or training with a black male pathologist, although I have mentored one black male student who went on to train in pathology. After completing my training, I returned once again to my medical school alma mater, this time as a member of the faculty. Nearly a decade later, I am still the only black woman on the faculty. My life was sedentary; the shortest walk made me breathless, sweaty, and fatigued.
I could not fit into seats, my car dipped on the driver's side, and people stared at me. My diet consisted of sweet and fatty food, and by my late 20s, I reached around pounds kg.
My health was on the same road as mum's, who died young. Depressed and believing I was worthless, I lacked the motivation to change. Then, a friend saw beyond the rolls of fat. She cared enough to let me know her. She wondered what her life would be like without me. I mattered. This was the turning point. For the first time in my life, I chose to take care of myself. Working on my shame and the psychological pain of my past was the only way I could bring about real change to my lifestyle. There would be no quick fix. I set about dealing with my destructive coping mechanisms.
Hovering around pounds kg , I began walking.
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Exhaustion, blisters, hurting joints, burning legs, and a sore back made it difficult. But I walked every day. Some passers-by mocked, some worried I would die, and others complimented me.
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Rubbing worsened the rashes beneath my folds of skin. My posture was poor from childhood obesity. I altered my diet, reduced my intake of processed foods, and ate reduced fat, low sugar, and low glycemic index foods instead. It was a slow process; changing one thing at a time, with my insatiable desire to eat drawing me back to old patterns.
Hormonal fluctuations brought about emotional swings and abdomen pain. Then I developed flu-like symptoms along with exhaustion and depression. Finally, I received a diagnosis of adrenal fatigue caused by the stresses of my childhood and physical changes. As if this wasn't enough, my thyroid died, and I gained weight. I was devastated; all my efforts had gone to waste. Advice from medical staff reinforced my sense of failure. Obesity defined my life, and that was how they saw me. However, I pressed on, hoping that things would improve.
Then, my friend showed me a pamphlet advertising abdominoplasty, the removal of excess skin from the abdomen.
Communism Through My Eyes; My Father Robert Trujillo, - International Publishers NYC
Eventually, I decided to go through with it. After carefully weighing my options, I went through with the procedure. To my surprise, my surgeon was caring and understanding. After waking up after surgery, I was shocked to see the size of the area where the skin had once been. For the first time in my life, I could see my thighs.
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I had a line of stitches that ran from near my left buttock, around my front to near my right buttock. A drip hung from each end of the stitches. The surgeon had moved my navel high up so that it looked out of place. My lower abdomen was numb except for some spots of soreness where the nerve endings were less damaged.
I wore a brace around my abdomen to keep the skin to the muscle. This was security for me as, without it, I felt vulnerable.
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The skin had always covered my groin; now, I felt exposed. As my body still had a significant amount of fat above the wound site, a seroma a fluid-filled pocket developed. This necessitated many trips to a clinic to have excess fluid drawn from beneath the skin of my lower abdomen. I was quickly exhausted, and more than once vomited from the stress placed on my body. Not only did this have a massive effect on my body, but in the weeks and months after leaving the hospital, my feelings swung like a pendulum.
This roll of skin had been with me since childhood, but now I was free of it, and all that was associated with it. It represented to me all that I had gone through as a child.