A Medical School Tragedy that Saved Lives

It was the first year of his medical school career. He had likely been looking forward to this all of his life – to achieving his place there after determined hard work, as all those who seek out a medical career do.

After all, the strenuous preparations that go into studying, applying, and entering medical school are among the toughest of any profession – a major commitment – and one of the reasons why so very few of us stand at the finishing line. Except that the end isn’t even near at that point. Having completed all pre-medical requisites successfully, we must brace ourselves once again for those brutal years of slaving over books, algorithms, formulas, and all for that coveted medical degree at the very, very end. (Mind you, that very, very end is the very, very beginning of residency, and that’s a whole other ballgame..)

He had done it – he finally succeeded in getting to medical school.

But it was taken away from him in the blink of an eye.

I was about to begin my second year of medical school myself. My boyfriend at the time – who is now my husband- and I were storing extra energy for the dreaded second year of studying. Like bears preparing for hibernation. There would be more microbiology. More pharmacology. More pathology. More and more and more and more.

He had done it – he finally succeeded in getting to medical school. But it was taken away from him in the blink of an eye.

He was a newbie, in his first year there. A freshman in every sense of the word – fresh meat, we called those who started out after us.

But nothing was funny about the way things turned out. No one imagined it would happen then. At that point in his life. To him. To the entire medical community.

I remember hearing the news at my apartment, across the street from where it happened. We didn’t believe it was true when we heard. Our jaws dropped to the floor at the news, and we remained that way – stunned – for a very long time. Things like this just didn’t happen. Not when you were supposed to start medical school.

He was found at the bottom of the pool, just across the very apartment – where we stood now, trying to comprehend the gravity of the news – on the grounds of the school where we studied. In the pool where we played. Where we tanned. Where we goofed around to let out some steam.

Our jaws dropped to the floor at the news, and we remained that way – stunned – for a very long time.

The story went like this. He and a friend – a fellow student from a year below us – decided to compete in an underwater swim contest. They were to hold their breath and come out on the other end. The one who made it the farthest would win.

But he lost, and no one took notice. No one imagined he would be taking his last breath. No one saw him under that water. In what we now believe was a case of misfortune, no, worse – plain tragedy – he lost his 22-year old life.

We never found out what caused him to drown. He was in good shape, they said, and in good health. It seemed he may have just held his breath for too long, and most likely passed out underwater.

It was shocking to us all.

This untimely loss of life struck us directly at the strings of our hearts. And even though we did not even know him, we truly felt like we did. You see, he had already become one of us. He had traveled the same journey, had chosen the same difficult path. We had all been in his boat, at one time or another. And it could have easily been one of us. He was simply the unlucky one.

We pondered over his fate with the confusion of innocent youth. Why? We wondered. But no one answered.

he had already become one of us. He had traveled the same journey, had chosen the same difficult path.

Yet, with the death of our colleague, there also came life. Thirteen years ago, when our nameless friend left this world that we live in, he gave hope to a number of others by giving them their chance. His family selflessly donated his organs when it became futile keeping his lungs living through a machine. It was an act of incredible strength on their part, and I am humbled to this day by what they did.

There is, however, yet another important point to take away from this tragedy, and it’s one we all should remember. Did you know that drowning almost always takes place in silence? When people drown, they’re not struggling as they typically do in the big screen. It’s inconspicuous when t happens. Because of this, we must always keep our eyes peeled when water is involved. Never allow children to swim unattended and always supervise a pool or beach area, never taking anything for granted. Even the most avid of swimmers can drown, and even during a busy weekend afternoon, with a pool filled with others, with a lifeguard keeping watch.

I look back now, at the death of our colleague – the newbie we never got to know. I sigh at the bittersweet memory of that day, and at knowing that life still carried on – that even without becoming a doctor, he still succeeded in saving the lives of others.

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