So you ask what drives me becoming a physician???

Diana Spell Personal Illness Paper
It was just another hot day in the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey. I believe we were in the middle of the month of June of 2008, and I was just getting off the southbound ‘local’ train coming from Rahway where I spent forty plus hours a week interning for Merck & Co. There was a group of five of us that usually caught the early train home, and we all happened to be going through the medical school application process at the same time. One of my very close male friends, who is currently a part of the medical class of 2013 at Wisconsin Madison, and myself were faced with the daunting task of having to retake the MCAT for the second time, so we quickly parted ways with the other three to head towards the New Brunswick Kaplan Center. As we were just about to cross the street to distance ourselves further away from the bustling train station, I felt my phone buzzing; humming that familiar vibratory sound.
I saw that it was my brother calling, which was odd for him to do so, and I picked up. “Hello,” I said with sort of a what-are-you-doing-calling-me-but-hey-i-love-you-anyways type tone. My concerned yet jolly tone was met by a cloud of panic and despair as my brother began to tell me that something was wrong with Mommy. “Well what could be wrong? What’s happening,” I yelled as my mood quickly changed in a moments noticed. I soon felt a tugging on my shirt, and it was my friend John telling me to get out of the middle of the street for the light had changed and I was sure to be hit by a Jersey cab. I reached the curb safely and was able to hear my brother a bit better. He told me that he and my mother were on the way to the hospital after my mother became exceedingly ill. I was so confused, because I had sworn I spoke to my mother two weeks prior on the phone and she sounded fine. My brother explained that my mother had been experiencing some painful abdominal discomfort for some time now but did not want to tell me because she did not want me to worry, ending that I needed to focus on doing well this time around on the MCAT. By this point, John was repeatedly asking me what was wrong, my brother was frantically whispering into my ear, and the pavement around my feet began to be littered by what appeared to be raindrops.
I was crying. I was confused, but more than anything else, I was afraid! My mother is never known to be sick, so to hear that she was on her way being rushed to the hospital, made me want to be on my way getting rushed to the airport. I was able to calm down just enough to be able to tell my brother to let my mother know that I loved her and I would be waiting desperately for news before hanging up. To have your life suddenly thrown into a whirlwind is enough to slap you back into reality of what is important in life. I previously stated that I had not directly spoken to my mother on the phone for two weeks. Yes, we would text here and there, but we had not verbally spoken to each other on the phone for that long, because I was too busy worrying myself about how much time a simple conversation with my own mother would take away from me studying for an exam not even scheduled for another two months. I mean what was I to do but pray at the moment.
I was so distraught that I told John to go ahead to the center without me, and I turned around with tear-stained cheeks to head home. The thought process that consumes your mind after receiving bad news about a family member is an intricate puzzle that not even the smartest person alive could solve. I was overwhelmed by so many emotions: guilt, sorrow, fear, and uncertainty. Instead of devoting all of my sanity and worries to God for him to help work out, I began to blame myself as if my mother’s condition had something to do with me not calling or visiting her more often. The ‘what ifs’ were flooding my mental timeline, and these were what brought about most of my hysterical reactions. It had only been three minutes since hearing from my brother and I was a mess, but I knew that I had to pull it together and just hope for good news to come.
My mother has been obese for many years; in fact, I have never known my mother any other way. She grew up in the sixties and seventies when smoking cigarettes were socially acceptable, even for children, and had been consuming on average three cigarettes a day for the last thirty-five years. Even with my brother and me encouraging her to stop, she just could not give them up. It was the three of us for the most part growing up and my mother has always been strong, holding the family down on a solid foundation. We did not have very much money, nor did we have steady health insurance, so many sicknesses or ailments were stuck out and managed by in home care. My mother worked in a hospital a good majority of my adolescent years and I always attributed her good health to her supposedly strong immune system due to all the bugs she was exposed to on a daily basis. So when I heard my mother was being rushed to a hospital I began to act as if our family foundation became weak. I also began to run down what all my mother could be suffering from, but my lack of medical knowledge could only get me to the conclusion that whatever it was, it was powerful enough and silent enough to offset one of the strongest women I know.
My brother was able to call me within a few hours to update me and let me know that the doctors had admitted my mother into the hospital to begin working her up. He was able to share that our mother had severe gastrointestinal problems and was almost to the point of unconsciousness when they finally arrived to the hospital. The first thing I did after getting off the phone with my brother was cross out the idea that my mother was going to die. Most family members could probably relate to that overwhelming feeling of uncertainty about one’s health that the only two extremes they can muster to think of is whether that person is going to survive or die. If you have never experienced that feeling, then maybe you could relate to a time when out of nowhere your car would not crank up. You didn’t get into any prior accidents, you remembered turning off all of your car lights the night before, and you know you have a full tank of gas; and yet, your car will not start. For me, the unknown is a scary place, so I was anxiously waiting for the doctors to report back to the family on my mother’s condition.
It wasn’t until the next morning that my brother called me back. He stayed with my mother overnight and told me that they had her pretty drugged up for pain, so she was soundly sleeping. He described her as looking frail for her size, and a bit pale. The doctors told him that with the symptoms that my mother was experiencing, over what turned out to be the last six plus months, were pointing them to the possibility of her having either ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease, or colon cancer since she was a smoker. My brother added that the doctors seemed confident that my mother would be fine, but said he could sense that they seemed a little uneasy in their delivery. Hearing any news from a doctor, I will say, calms nerves instantly. Even though the doctor on my mother’s case may have been a little weary on the cause of her presenting illness, I felt good knowing that they had at least narrowed the differential diagnosis down to three things. I never heard of UC or Crohn’s before, but I did know that a diagnosis of cancer would not be good.
I decided to look up information on each of the three possible diagnoses, hoping that my mother would get the least severe. It was hard during this time not being able to hear my mother’s voice, because if I did, I knew everything would be okay and back to normal within forty-eight hours. Whenever I’m freaking out about school or relationships, I could always count on my mother to give me some guiding advice that would help push me into better days. I longed for some of that advice at that moment. It wasn’t until the next day when my wish was granted, but the voice I heard over the phone was not that of my mother’s. She sounded so weak that I wish I could just reach over to her bedside and take away some of her pain. She told me to stop worrying and that everything would be alright. Even through all of her misery, she was still able to be that parent I always counted on and convinced me to stay in New Jersey and not fly home, which I had been planning on doing. If at that moment I believed that by taking my mother’s orders would help make her better, I did what she asked and told my brother to keep being there for her since I couldn’t physically do the same.
Coming from a single parent home made finances tight, and after four days of my mother being in the hospital, I began to worry about the expenses accruing under her name. Luckily to my knowledge, my mother had just signed onto a new healthcare plan at her job, and all hospital charges would be taken care of. In total, my mother was in the hospital a little over two weeks. My brother was not lying when he said he could tell that the physicians seemed a bit puzzled by my mother’s case, because they ran so many tests and performed many more procedures, leaving them to diagnose my mother with an over reactive colon. She was discharged from the hospital with steroids to take to help with the inflammation in her colon, and was told to schedule a colonoscopy so that the doctors could make their final diagnosis.
I was happy my mother had returned home with my brother able to be look after her. She later had her procedure done and the colonoscopy results came back inconclusive, only eliminating the possibility of her having colon cancer. The doctors were still stuck. They said that she had all the right symptoms of having Crohn’s disease but her pictures leaned more towards the UC spectrum. My mother and I became frustrated around this time, because for my mother, it meant that she would have to prolong her steroid treatment, directly antagonizing her attempts at losing weight; and for me, I was frustrated because it was still that situation of the unknown looming over our heads. I just wanted my mother to be my mommy again, back to her nurturing and strong woman ways.
Months have passed by and the memory of that day with all its emotions has begun to fade. My mother is living with an autoimmune disorder where her antibodies attack her colon, affecting its ability to reabsorb water and help maintain homeostatic electrolyte balances. During her attacks, she is in a lot of pain, unable to eat, and has horrible bouts with the restroom. She was diagnosed with UC with a likely possibility of developing full Crohn’s disease. The doctors said that her smoking is probably what caused her condition to manifest when it did, and surprisingly, quitting smoking might aggravate it even more. However, my mother made the decision to be through with smoking the day she had to be rushed into the hospital. Today, my family is a lot closer from that day, and I am a lot stronger by getting through the whole situation. My faith was tested but never wavered, and I am glad to say my mother is doing really well. She has lost seventy pounds and is in remission for her UC. This scare definitely put my longing to become a physician and possibly a rheumatologist into overdrive so that I can one day better understand the medical aspect of autoimmune disorders. This whole experience also allowed me to see the limitations of others, as well as of myself. Doctors, for one, are mere human professionals who work really hard to know any and everything about medicine, but are limited to understanding only the laws of science, incapable of predicting destiny. I realized how fragile life is, and quickly straightened out my priority list so that no matter what, family came first. My mother will have UC the rest of her life, and I need her to know that through no matter what, I will be there for her, as I know she would do the same for me.

Last Day…At Work

well i cannot believe 5 weeks have gone by already. i am not saying that they flew by, but let´s just say they moved swiftly, with a limp. me and the girls are sitting here in the computer lab drinking Fanta (teenager´s favorite soft drink here) while singing along to Rihanna playing off of my iTouch. WE ARE CELEBRATING!!!

……celebrating growth, independence, confidence, and the beauty of knowledge and friendships created. i am hoping that they continue the blog, and make it more then what it is now. i will email them as much as i can in the beginning to see that they create more posts, but ultimately i have to let them go and let them make that decision, since it is their blog.

I will be leaving Kaolack for DAKAR (Senegal´s biggest city and what I consider to be a mixture of LA + NYC with a European flare) Saturday morning. A couple of volunteers found this quaint little bed and breakfast owned by an American woman at which I will be laying my head for a night before I return home to America. When I get back to Greenville, I plan to add my reflection pieces because the best reflection of something is done when it´s ´gone´ right? Well Senegal will never leave my heart and these girls have changed me more than they know. So for them, I will chat with you all later so that I can join in singing with the off-key choir, dancing and laughing the time we have left together away. Chao! See you all in America.

It Has Been A While

I have been busy busy busy. Many volunteers have left and I have been entrapped in my work with the girls in helping them set up their very own blog. They blog in French but I challenge them to write 2 or 3 sentences in English each post. Please check out their blog, as I am so very proud of each of my 5 girls. If you have a blogger account, feel free to comment on their posts (even if you do not understand the French it is fine). They all are anxious to see comments, which lets them know others are viewing their posts and care. Here is their site:

voice AND action

Voice and action. Voice and action.  To have one but not the other often leads to fights, confusion, and the stagnancy of a people if others are not willing to pick up the slack, help, or just take the time to TRY and understand.  I was moved to write this blog for some time now, and had started a couple of drafts previously, but it felt too contrived.  My closest friend here, Shamora (pictured below avec moi regarder la plaige), told me to just wait until I could just be by myself and reflect.  Anyone who knows me knows that I couldn’t pass up giving her my sarcastic reply of , “thanks captain obvious,” (for laughs of course), but those were just the words I needed to hear at the time.  She preceded to lend me her tiny Toshiba laptop to use if I were so called to write before arriving at work tomorrow, and as I sit here typing in my host family’s living room, I cannot help but think about how quick new friendships can grow by relying upon one’s voice and actions.

“Relationships, who really needs ‘em!” are words taken from one of my favorite Jamie Foxx stand-up performances, but is this statement really true?  Of course not, because as presented to me here everyday in Senegal, there are many kinds.  Our first instinctive thought after reading the word ‘relationship’ is more than likely that of a man and woman holding hands, skipping down the sidewalk that leads to their home of love, right?!  But here in Senegal, I realize the word means so much more; it brings about cultural roles, duties, responsibility, family ties, communal gatherings for fellowship and prayer, and long-lasting friendships.  From a child to the old, it seems as if everybody is tied to someone in effort to maintain a progressive state for the people of Senegal.  For instance, my host family is pretty well off.  They have maids, a guard, a cook, a driver, and a gated home equipped with a snazzy doorbell.  They dress well, and look as if they could have the care in the world of how the Taliban children, who fight for shelter amongst the crevices of Kaolack, were doing on a daily basis.  I say this not because they are wealthy people, but because my little American mind could not fathom the relationships that my family has with community friends and leaders of ever crossing paths with these desperate and needy children.  But I was proven wrong as my family faithfully feeds the neighborhood children everyday with whatever leftovers there might be.  And this is not just my family, but our neighbors, the farmers, the shop owners, and even the families struggling to feed their own; they all give.

The communal relationship has lost its lack-luster in America.  I will not say that it has become completely extinct, but I will definitely admit to it not being one of my major priorities when I wake up in the morning.  Being here in Kaolack lets me realize where my actions and voice fall less than par, and it shows me how I can get that balance back.  Families here eat 3 meals a day, TOGETHER, with dinner usually being served around 10pm.  People greet each other with at least 3 different sayings before continuing their walk to work, market, friend’s house, or school.  Even the most shunned upon street animals (cats and dogs: American’s favorites) are seen munching upon leftovers placed outside of family’s residences more frequent then we are to adopt an American child in foster care, resolve our issues with childhood friends gone astray, or even spare a ‘hello’ to a complete stranger.

In closing, I did not post this particular post to get you to psychoanalyze your life and the people in/out of it, but only to share my thoughts and hope that maybe you too will begin to think about what the true meaning of a relationship really is.  Whether lovers, friends, or foes, there is always a meaning behind why we meet certain people, and let some go.  But if your voice and actions can be used to strengthen those failing relationships or even begin new ones with those in need, use them and see where it gets you.  I feel the Senegalese use their voices and act accordingly, and have a better grasp of what a relationship between 2 really is.  Let us as Americans learn from others for once.

A Review of the Camp for Girls

moi avec the queen of a neighboring town

je joiue avec mon filles

The Democracy and Environmental Camp was a first for 10,000 Girls in discussing topics that many Senegalese pay no attention to. It was a pretty big deal to address the polution problems in Senegal and the roles of women and man amongst teenage girls in a society dominated by traditional Muslim culture where a man can have 4 wives or the site of a trashcan is beyond rare. Let’s just say that in a developing country as Senegal, these topics are extremely touchy, even for some of the girls, and 10,000 Girls as an organization was proud of all who participated.

The camp for girls was divided into 2 parts over a course of 15 days in a rural, yet tourist farming town known as Toubacounta. Approximately 100 girls from the organization showed up, and they were all housed around town in traditional Senegalese style hotels. Some volunteers were lucky to have hotel rooms with A/C units, but many, including me, had to bare the heat during the day and throughout the night, while trying to escape from the ‘moto-motos’ (mosquitos).

The daily schedule was rise before 7am, walk into town (about 1.5mile), eat breakfast (baguette and coffee), do activities and discussions until 3pm when we broke for lunch (traditional Senegalese rice dishes with fish), walk back to hotels, as a camp watch a film at one of the hotels at 7pm, depart for dinner at 10pm, then dancing/tea/or just bed.

There is a volunteer here that has created 2 short films of the camp and even the national TV station came and did a story on our camp which has yet to be aired. Once I can get a copy of both, I will post links for viewing. Please enjoy the pictures below of some of the girls et moi!

O my, O my

Wow. So I believe I’ve been in Senegal for over 2 weeks now but the days blend so much that to keep track of time would be a waste. There is sooo much here to see, learn, experience and the only thing hindering me from doing it all are the mosquito bites (well not really, its time). Since this is my first post since I have arrived, it may be a bit long, but I plan to update once a day now that I am back in Kaolack and have access to the Internet.

For 15 days, I was working at a camp in a rural town called Tambacounda (Tuba-Coo-Ta), Senegal. The camp was composed of about 100 girls and 15 volunteers and it was hosted at the village’s primary school. We presented the girls with topics to discuss on democracy and environment. It was all in French, which challenged me to remember all of the verbs I forgot.  Even then, I’m more comprehensive of French than I am able to speak it in a fluent manner.  If I must say though, the camp was a major success and had everyone in tears (even our two manly male volunteers) near its end.

Now I am back in Kaolack working at the main site for 10,000 Girls. My project has changed a bit due to security issues concerning the girls and the Senegalese government, but the ultimate goal will still be accomplished, which is allowing for the girls to be able to utilize the Internet to voice their thoughts and concerns on topics that affect them, while still allowing American volunteers to post and comment on the blog site to be created by the Senegalese girls here. The webcams will be used for personal movies on another volunteer’s movie project which I hope to be able to link this blog site to so that you all may experience how wonderful these girls really are.

In the next couple of blogs I plan to talk about the juicy stuff; such as, food, weather, troubles, joys, volunteer fun, and most importantly the life lessons I am continuing to learn by being here. I am truly having a wonderful time here though and I would recommend anyone to come visit Senegal or any African and/or developing nation for that matter.

Once I figure out Linux or Linex??? and how I can upload the images from my Nikon in French to the computers, we will have photos on this blog!!!

All smiles over here and I hope the same is wherever you are at too. Stay blessed.

Less than 24 hrs

I have all my shots. I’ve raised enough emergency money (I hope). I have the bug repellent, tshirts, pants, 2 flip flops, some tennis shoes, and a charged camera…why am I still nervous???

I suppose its because my French is noooo where near what it used to be in college, or that I will be flying over the Atlantic Ocean to a place that is not dominated by American culture, something that has consumed my life since Dec 25, 1986 1:04am. But with all the nerves, there are smiles. Silent ones. Big and small ones. Picture perfect smiles; I am truly excited to meet people, gain friendships, learn, experience, grow as a spiritual human being.

A lot of people asked, “Why are you not doing anything related to medicine?” or “Where’s the science component?” I reply WHY NOT. Dramatically speaking, this is my LAST free summer allotted due to the breaking of school. Post-graduation there will be 1 or 2 weeks here and there for vacationing, but nothing compared to the good ole’ summer breaks from school. So I wanted to take time for myself and also use it to help others, strengthening my humanity, so that I could apply that learned compassion when dealing with patients and colleagues in practice.

I’m sure I’m experiencing a lot of the same emotions most feel the day before they take their first service trip overseas, and I am paying attention every step of the way. Take nothing for granted, keep striving towards your dreams, and remember to always thank those who helped you along the way by helping those behind you get to where you are with a little less sweat.

So for lunch, I will treat myself to some egg foo young, and for dinner tonight, my mother is taking me for NC BBQ, my fave. Tomorrow I will do my best to push all expectations aside and just live.

Hello world! Welcome!

wow!  I cannot believe I’m blogging and it must of took me over an hour to figure out how to even post.  (It’s not as simple as posting on Facebook or sending an email; I really felt like a computer programmer lol)

Well please excuse my fancy, you all must be wondering who I am, what I’m all about, and most importantly, what will I be doing in Kaolack, Senegal.  As of today, the countdown to Kaolack is exactly 2 weeks!  In 2 weeks my life will forever be changed as I journey to Western Africa….oh I’m so excited!  I leave on June 26th and will be returning August 1st so I have a 5 week stay in Senegal.  While in Senegal, I will be working with 10000 Girls Organization, created by Ms. Viola Vaughn, assisting community girls with reading, computer training, English as a second language, and career prep.  My Brody Scholar Project will be to set up a telecommunication program with the girls so that Brody students can serve as mentors to girls ages 15-22 encouraging them to go to higher level educational programs and possibly medicine as a career.  I am so blessed to have been awarded the Brody Scholar scholarship and now the Summer Enrichment Fund and I want to share every bit of it helping these young Senegalese women.  You may visit 10000 Girls website here: ( )

The local center in Kaolack does have computers with internet access so please check back weekly to see my posts.  Never having an opportunity to travel abroad while in undergrad at Spelman College, I wanted to make sure that I not only was going to Senegal to serve, but to learn a whole new culture and way of life, so I will be living in a home-stay with a Senegalese family and working on the French I learned while in school growing up.

Again, thank you for visiting and please feel free to check back as often as you like as I plan to update as much as I can.  :)