Grief and Triumph

I’ve learned recently that triumph doesn’t exist without some degree of grief, and that acknowledging the accompanying grief is crucial, no matter the level of triumph. When something goes right, we tend to abandon all of those other possible outcomes in favor of focusing on the task at hand. Although it’s understandable to lean into the good things, everything comes with some degree of trade-off and I’ve found it helpful to acknowledge this.

In my initial recovery from my accident, I only allowed myself to focus on the fact that I was alive- and mostly unscathed- despite this horrific event. There was no room allowed for sadness about my new face, or frustration over the way my relationships were changing, because I was alive and that outweighed everything else. That gratitude for my life is what fueled my physical progress and makes my story inspirational to some, but I realize now that this mindset stunted my emotional growth in other ways. Of course, the other outcomes of my accident included death and therefore weren’t worth worrying too much about during such a fragile time. But what if the accident had never happened, and I just continued my life along the trajectory it was going? Although I’m not sure that path would be my preference, it’s certainly worth honoring. “But you’re here now, and with such an inspiring story and purpose!” some might say to me. Well, yes, but I can still miss my wide, symmetrical, smile sometimes. And I can still miss the simplicity of my life before my physical disabilities. Because I am a survivor, I compartmentalized these feelings and kept a laser-focus on the road ahead. It got me through recovery but I never gave myself the space to feel these things, and I am reckoning with the consequences in other aspects of my life.

This survival instinct has prevented me from feeling truly present throughout this entire application process. Even now, as I stand at the cusp of everything I’ve ever wanted- becoming a physician- I find myself stifling the associated grief. When I mention to anyone that the medical school I’ll attend isn’t my dream school, or that I was rejected from what I thought was my perfect fit, I am met with one response: “Yeah, but you’re going to medical school! You did it!” Yes, I did, and I am so incredibly happy and proud. But I also worked hard enough to have imagined better. So I hoped for better. I’ll do what I’ve always done, and bloom where I’m planted, but it’s important that I acknowledge my pangs of disappointment, too. Regardless of how things work out, I know I will create a path that is perfect for me, and that these concerns won’t matter in the long-run. As an optimist, I tend to avoid spending time/energy worrying about negative outcomes because I don’t think it’s helpful to worry about that stuff.

But, I want to make the distinction- acknowledging disappointment that might accompany a major triumph, honoring these feelings, then moving on- is not the same as shutting down, ‘focusing on the negative’, or straight up rejecting a win. I sincerely hope that this blog isn’t interpreted as ungrateful or focused on the negative, but I just wanted to share in case some of those reading see this pattern in their own lives. I think that, by failing to acknowledge the hard parts that come with triumph, we rob ourselves of the freedom to be fully present for the good stuff.

It’s been 3 weeks since I popped that bottle of champagne. 3 weeks since my dream was affirmed. I still haven’t wrapped my head around the idea that I’ve been accepted to medical school- that someone, somewhere, thinks I’ll make a good doctor. I’ve been trying to prove this for so long, this almost feels like the universe calling my bluff. Since I believe all of my own selling points, getting into medical school has not felt like a surprise, but more like winning an argument.

Finally, finally, I’ve persuaded someone to see my potential according to my own view. It feels like I have been talking about this moment, this opportunity, for so long. Now that it’s here, I am humbled and overwhelmed by the magnitude of what this means. It means I have many years of studying and sleepless nights ahead of me; but it also means that I have so many opportunities to impact real people ahead of me. I’ll contribute to the real healing of real patients, something I’ve only been able to discuss previously as a hypothetical.

In every sense of the word, this is a dream come true. However, I have a problem with the word ‘dream’ because it denotes something far-fetched, maybe even impossible. But this day was never impossible, it was always going to happen. There were times when it felt farther away than I was able to continue, but it never felt like the wrong path for me. The relief that someone out there agrees, is unexplainable.

Even greater than my relief and excitement, is my gratitude for everyone who has contributed to my journey to this moment. From the nurses and physicians who kept me alive after my accident, to my advisors who helped me prepare for my interviews, this day would not have come without the help of every single one of you. The thing that stands out to me most about that day three weeks ago is just the sheer volume of people that came to my mind to thank. If you didn’t hear from me that day, it wasn’t because you aren’t important, I was just overwhelmed. Consider this post my thank-you note.

I Put My Champagne in the Fridge

Today, I put my good champagne in the fridge. I recently learned that champagne should be stored in the dark/at room temperature to allow for further fermentation/aging, but that it will stay drink-able in the fridge for about a year. In general, the only occasion I need to drink some champagne is that it’s a day ending in ‘y’. But this bottle, a 2009 Dom Perignon gifted by my little brother Alec, after my college graduation, is extra special. For a year after I graduated, it sat imposingly in the corner of my bar cart; I was continuously reminded that I had no occasion for such an impossibly rich celebration. It was as I began my initial applications in June 2019, that I decided the fate of this bottle of champagne: I’d drink it when I got into medical school.

Needless to say, it’s gotten to age substantially more than I had imagined. Too uncertain about my fate during my initial application cycle, I left it on the shelf of my bar cart. As I hung in limbo, grappled with the rejection, then picked myself up by the bootstraps, the bottle sat on its shelf, mocking me. It’s become a symbol of my initial failure; the black, shadowy bottle lurking in the corner, like the doubtful voice in the back of my head.

As I settle into my second application cycle, I think about this bottle a lot. I’m not going to open it until I get that acceptance, but I took some control over my destiny today. I put the bottle in the fridge. Are you thinking what I’m thinking yet? I am manifesting (and, desperately hoping) that this application will work out. I have spent the last year reflecting, working, and evolving, to make this work out. The parts that I can control are mostly behind me, but the journey ahead is looking brighter than the last. The rejections are coming more slowly, and the radio silence is feeling more thoughtful than judgemental. Or at least, that’s the reality I choose to live in. Within the next 9ish months, I am going to get that news. And I am going to need that champagne to be cold.

Who knows if it’s already turned into vinegar, but nothing will ever taste as sweet.

On the Right Track

In the Spring, when I had been resoundingly rejected by every single medical school I had applied to, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should take it as a sign from the universe to think about alternate career paths. I know that my situation was not uncommon, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. My bruised ego and I ended up in my current program because it sounded interesting, relevant, and would wrap up with ample time to reapply in the 2021 cycle. It’s been extremely rigorous (despite the fact that it’s been completely remote), but I have thoroughly enjoyed every class I’ve taken. Once I made peace with the fact that my timeline won’t look the way I once wanted, I’ve started to really enjoy the journey and this time.

This past semester, I posted my best-ever academic term. In graduate school. In the middle of a pandemic. This has been a huge confidence boost, but also a reaffirmation that I’m still on the right track. I know that grades are not necessarily what determine a good physician, but they are what medical schools care about. And I’ve got my foot in the door. Before this, I feel like I had the un-trainable (and unfortunately under-valued) attributes of a good physician- empathy, creativity, grit. Unfortunately, these couldn’t be appreciated by the system that was blinded by my crappy grades. Like when you notice that someone you’re talking to has a massive chunk of spinach in their teeth, and you suddenly can’t hear a word they say.

If I had listened to the rejection, let it decide for me, I would have been giving up my purpose. Revamping my application GPA for the better won’t be what gets me into medical school. What it will do, hopefully, is get me past those GPA filters so that an actual human is able to read my story and actually connect it to my trajectory. Perfect students are dime a dozen in the medical school applicant pool, but I have confidence that I can hold up to comparison. I recognize that not everyone has the financial and social support to put themselves through this harrowing process yet again. I hope that my journey is applicable to anyone dealing with something similar- you don’t always have to accept the cards that have been dealt to you, especially when it means giving up your aspirations.

Having said all of that, it’s fucking exhausting being resilient. I hope anyone reading this knows that I’m not the person writing these posts all the time. I am often irreversibly grumpy, especially during the window between waking up and drinking coffee. The reason it’s been so long since I’ve written one of these posts is because I’ve been struggling to feel optimistic about the future during this time. I have a really hard time focusing solely on the present without a definitive end point (a deadline, or event), and it’s left me feeling uninspired- and like I need some new hobbies. Throughout the entire pandemic, I have been continuously learning that people are just not as inherently good as I had believed. The unwillingness of some to participate in wearing a mask, an act almost-entirely for the protection of others, is something I cannot comprehend. I’ve been depleted of my optimism after months of being confronted by the ugliness of humanity while the future is so uncertain. I know that we will dig ourselves out of this hole, but we need to be kind to each other. This is a weird time for everyone, and I think we are all learning about the necessity of being nice to ourselves. So feel your feelings, it’s ok to mourn the life you had a year ago.


Hi All. My family members have asked why I haven’t updated my blog in a while. I have updates I could share with you all, like (online) grad school classes starting two weeks ago, but the truth is that I just don’t feel like anyone needs to be reading about my life right now. There are far, far more important updates to pay attention to, so instead of a blog post here is a short, not-comprehensive starter list of resources to empower you to pay attention to the areas that need your focus. These are things I care about, and their existence is not up for debate. I welcome you to look elsewhere for resources, though!

COVID- 19 News: whenever you read a news article, there should be a reference (in the article or at the end) for where they got the information they are writing about. Go read the cited article, THEN go read the news piece. Scientific peer review exists for a reason, and it can protect you from becoming an ill-informed ‘Karen’ who gets her news from Twitter. If the scientific language isn’t worth the effort to read, you have no business regurgitating it to people who will believe what you say. Believe the scientists. 

Tackling and Dismantling Institutional and outright Racism in America: The obstacles I have faced in life do not take away the fact that I am still a white woman in America, and enjoy the services of a system to benefit me while oppressing people of color. Black Lives Matter, and I have channeled my energy and resources into how America can do better here. Some resources to get you started:

  • Sign up for the Anti-Racism Daily: a daily email that thoroughly explains a different facet of prejudice and discrimination in the current society, and provides resources on how to change that. Subscribe here:
  • Donate, if you can. To the ACLU, to the NAACP, to the George and Gianna Floyd Foundation. Do some research and find the cause most meaningful to you. If not money; time, resources, professional expertise.
  • Educate yourself about the inherent racism you have practiced/shown/contributed to; White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is where I have started- it’s hard to stomach at times, but I am a better ally for reading it. I recommend ordering through, which helps support independent bookstores, who are struggling during the pandemic.
  • Listen to the experiences of people of color. As the oppressor, we do not get to decide which feelings are valid or not. Listen to it, HEAR it, and do something.


Next Steps

I’ve never covered up the hard stuff before, and I won’t do that now. I won’t pretend that I’ve actually changed my mind and decided to put off med school. I won’t pretend that my career plans have changed, and that’s why I’m not starting medical school this fall. It’s because I got rejected from everywhere. All 29 schools.

I have known from the start that this process would be difficult, and I’d heard horror stories about my peers getting flat-out rejected. Being rejected 29 times, spread out over 9 months, really wears on a person’s confidence. The hurt comes in waves, but I am comforted by the knowledge that I held nothing back. I failed harder than even I thought was possible. I’m disappointed in these schools’ failure to see the value I will bring as a physician, but I guess I need to make it easier for them to understand.

I won’t be discouraged, I’m leveling up. I’m going to take a year, pursue my Master’s of Science, then reapply to medical school in 2021 to begin in 2022. I’m going to work over the next year to make it so painfully obvious that I deserve to be considered, that I actually will be. I don’t know which master’s program I will choose, but I won’t squander the opportunity to demonstrate my competence and motivation.

I will start school (again) this summer and am aiming to be finished by Spring 2021 (roughly one year from now). I will re-apply then, for matriculation in Fall 2022. I don’t want to be starting medical school two years from now, and could hypothetically reapply now to start in 2021. I need to take a year to do something meaningful (and, ideally, successful) to really add value to the time I have taken off since graduating.

The Road That Lies Ahead

The other night, trying to fall asleep but worrying over the 1000 things that I have no control over, a thought visited me that I hadn’t seen in a while.

In the recent past, even in some of the older posts on here, I have mourned the life I imagined having if my accident never happened. I mourn the loss of a symmetrical smile. I mourn the loss of perfect balance. I mourn the loss of a comfortable, straightforward, inconsequential existence.

This time, however, no tears came. Sure, I won’t have any of those things. Instead, I have 13 scars, some flat and light, others dark and new. I have a whole makeup bag of supplies for my delicate right eye. I have an intolerance for lazy people and anti-vaxxers. Where I lost an easy life in my accident, I gained aspirations far beyond anything I could have imagined possible for me.

This time, I told myself “tough shit.” Sure, my life isn’t as ‘easy’ post-accident as it was before, but I also would have never believed in my resilience and capability like I do now. The things about my life that I feel are hard: the emotional turmoil of the medical school application process, the demands of balancing volunteering and full-time employment, nurturing and supporting my loved ones. Those things reflect what I truly value, and they are also things that I would have never expected that I could handle in my previous life.

This time, thinking about how my life would have turned out without my accident felt like mourning a very mediocre version of myself. It clicked, finally, that there is absolutely no value in expending energy thinking about that; the road that lies ahead is free from the bounds I once had on my capability. I have far more confidence in the woman I am, than the woman I could have been.

Although I only JUST had that revelation, I think that’s part of why I have been pretty quiet on here, for which I apologize. This blog started as I navigated my ‘new normal’ and adjusted to my different life. Now that I am spending less time thinking about these differences, I have less to talk about on here. I will, of course, continue to post when I feel inspired, but wanted to provide some context for my silence.


Braver Than Before

As I am writing this, my right eye is wide open for the first time since 2016. Just one month ago, I was very matter-of-factly explaining to Anthony that they weren’t sure my eye would ever be fully open, when I suddenly began to cry. This was as much a surprise to myself as it was to him, but the weight of what I was saying came down in full force. I brought this concern to my eye doctor, and we have been working together to find the optimal balance between keeping my eye healthy and making me more confident.

I currently wear a little detachable eyelid weight to help me blink that looks like a little piece of tape (and is a massive pain in my ass to put on in the mornings), and I am going to try wearing a large, rigid contact lens that can act as a shield for the surface of my eye. I am having a custom lens 3D printed (!) for my very scarred, irregular eyeball, and they needed to take an impression for the mold. This is just like a dental impression, but they have to pull my eyelids apart a little bit to fit the mold to the whole surface. To do this, they needed to un-do the stitch in the corner of my eye so that they could get an impression of the entire surface, and they are letting me keep it open at LEAST until the lens comes in about 3 weeks.

Of course, the first thing that I did was take a selfie to send to my mom after. The lighting was good and my hair was on point, and I was struck by how much I looked like my old self. But even more surprising to me was how little that mattered to me. In contrast to the massive progress I have made in my life recently, it’s disconcerting to observe my appearance moving backwards (but in the best way). My gradual return to the way I looked before my accident almost feels like cheating- how can I possibly have gone through all this shit and still be able to look like my old self? I am so incredibly different from that girl.

I’m thinking a lot about just how much I have changed since I last had two eyes fully open. I am certainly sassier than before. I am tougher than before. Braver than before. I expect more of myself than before; but just because I have struggled doesn’t mean I have to wear those battles on my face. The victories that I’ve won don’t go away as the scars fade; I can love myself and still want to improve myself.

I shared the photo on Instagram this morning and am, as always, humbled by the love and support from everyone. My friends and family have fought with me, laughed with me, cried with me, and this victory is theirs as well.

Game Face.

Having a ‘game face’ looks different to different people. For some, it’s putting on a smile and listening to a customer’s ridiculous complaint. For others, it’s making it to a social event despite overwhelming anxiety. It’s doing the hard stuff that you didn’t really want to do. For me, my game face is shown in the attached image; marked up and ready to be cut open.

This picture shows my surgeon’s ‘map’ that he drew immediately before my last (!) facial reanimation surgery at NYU. This one has been in the works for a very long time; it is the second phase of the reconstruction began last summer.  Last summer, they took a nerve from my foot, connected it to my working facial nerve, and hoped that it would grow across my face over to my paralyzed side. That part was perhaps the most important and hardest progress to monitor, but this second surgery was no cakewalk either.

During the ten hours that I was in surgery on 7/16, Dr. Rodriguez took a piece of my gracilis muscle (in my inner thigh) and all of the attached blood vessels/nerve supply, and then grafted it into my face. He attached it to the corner of my mouth and my temple, much like a working face muscle would be oriented, then attached the product of last summer’s nerve graft to this new muscle. The most delicate part, however, was connecting blood vessels from my neck to those that attached to the muscle when it was in my thigh.

This part was so important because, without adequate blood supply, the transplanted muscle would die and render the last year of preparation useless. It’s a delicate process in any patient, but previous trauma to my neck (the actual accident, past missteps by lesser surgeons) made this part extra difficult. Dr. Rodriguez, of course, was able to find and connect vessels necessary to feed the muscle, but unlike other patients, I did not have any viable back-up vessels to use in the case that something went awry during recovery.

I won’t say the recovery was the easiest thing ever, but I can also say that I have experienced much, much worse. Luckily, it was uneventful, and I am back to my normal routine. I am still a little swollen and quite bruised, but it’s nothing that a little makeup can’t fix. Now, I wait 3-9 months for the connected nerve and muscle to start talking to each other, and that is when everything will start moving.

My game face is walking myself into the operating room with a smile. My game face is cracking jokes about spaceships as I stare up at the massive surgical lamps above me. My game face is saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the nurse sticking me with my fifth IV needle of my stay. My game face is walking myself out of the hospital, with yet another body part rearranged where it doesn’t naturally belong.

Relaxed and Ambitious

I have never, ever, been ruled by my own self doubt- even when I’m not confident, I move past the worry. As I begin this medical school application process, there’s much to be insecure about- my crappy grades, my test scores, my uncertainty about the people reading my application. I know that my case is unique, but everyone is unique. When it’s my future career that hangs in the balance,  I can’t just not listen to this voice of doubt in my head. I know that it’s spewing completely irrational things, but the stakes are much too high here. My defense against the worst-case-scenario has always been to prepare. The only way to ‘prepare’ in this situation is to acknowledge the possibility that EVERYTHING goes wrong.

For example, I got my score back from the MCAT I took in March. I scored almost exactly average. When I first saw my score, I was angry and confused- I had talked myself into feeling ‘pretty good’ about a test that I honestly had mixed feelings about. On the day I took it, I walked out of that test having NO clue whether or not I did well. I figured that if I didn’t feel defeated, it couldn’t have been THAT bad right? I mean, it’s the fucking MCAT, I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to ever feel like you aced it. My test-taking instincts are almost always right, but in this case, I had been lying to myself.

I took the exam again in May, having regrouped and focused on the areas that I knew I was weakest in. I immediately felt overwhelmingly more positive about this attempt; there was much more that I KNEW that I knew, if that makes sense. But now, a day before I get my score back, it’s my doubtful voice’s cue to chime in. Yeah I felt good about it, but my score will only improve if I did at LEAST as well as last time. Since I wasn’t in a full-time class this time, how could I possibly have held onto my training? I’m having a really hard time not buying into the panic, but my fate has been decided and won’t change regardless of how much I worry.

If this were literally any other test score, I would be quick to let it go. It is what it is, and it’s not what it’s not. But this is so much more important to me. If it is what it is and it’s not great, I can’t just accept that and be passive in my pursuit of the rest of my life. Being okay with a less-than-stellar test score at this stage is equivalent to being okay with my application getting passed over. And that is most certainly not okay. At the root of this dilemma is just that it’s very difficult to be relaxed AND ambitious at the same time.