Winning the Lottery
My 17-Year Journey from Cuba to Curing Others
(by: Patty Nunez, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine 2014)
My family and I came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1995 by plane, not the homemade floating devices many courageous 1990s “rafters” used to reach their American dream. You see, there is a little thing called bombo, which is the visa lottery to come to America, and my mother, father and brother had submitted their names in 1990. Five years went by, and we forgot about it, until one day a manila folder was delivered to our home. My parents knew what it was, but it took a week for them to open it, even though we knew it would be a blessing and change our lives forever. We decided to come, but the government gave us one condition: We had to leave my brother behind. So we said no at the time, and the only reason my parents changed their minds and we ended up coming was because the government lied and told us that my brother would be reunited with us five months later. He was 22 at the time. He didn’t arrive until 2003.
Our reasons for emigrating involved freedom of speech, the right to individuality, the right to be a human being and the freedom to travel anywhere in the world. For me, that included, but was not limited to, becoming a doctor with enough resources to help communities in need. Cuba has a world-renowned reputation for having great doctors, but the sad thing is the island lacks resources to make medicine happen. Something as simple as getting an MRI to confirm a diagnosis may just not occur, and the doctors get frustrated, because they know they can save that life but the means to do so are scarce. I have three doctors in my family. All of them are all in Cuba, and they have each taught me a million and one things about medicine, both feeding me with love for the occupation and educating me on the pros and cons. But pros out-weighed cons the vast majority of the time, so I united my love for humanity and my passion for the sciences, and after graduating high school in 2002, I decided to dedicate my academic life to medicine.
I discovered osteopathic medicine when I entered Florida International University in 2002. The thought that I could help a human being ameliorate their quality of life by diagnosing and manipulating their bodies into homeostasis was something that truly fascinated me. I myself had surgery at 16 due to a herniated disc, but now I know that with the right exercises and osteopathic medical treatments I could’ve avoided the surgery and prevented the same herniated disc from coming back. Without even practicing out in the field yet, I’ve been putting to use all I’ve learned at FIU and now Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine by helping decrease my father’s chronic lower back pain and my mother’s tension-induced headaches, not to mention attending to my husband, who injured his arm in a car accident last year.
To know that at TouroCOM, I’m not only studying medicine in the United States, but also New York City—the capital of the world—makes every day as a medical student a little less harsh. My peers and I all know what we give up, the moments we let go by, when we sit down and study for a test. After all, we’ll be saving peoples’ lives in the future. So for now, we bite our lips and do what we have to do. We know it gets harder, and that is the career we chose.
Of course, I’m not always a bookworm sleeping in library cubicles. I enjoy dancing. It’s one of the ways I express myself that I can’t live without it. I studied Spanish Flamenco for seven years before coming to America, and resumed when I was 18. Since it’s not usually a dance at parties, I mainly just do it at home while putting the music on really loud. I miss the audience, but at least I can say I did it.
Photography is another hobby I love. I started taking pictures when I moved here in 2009, because for the first time I was in an incredibly photogenic city with so much to offer and so many different cultures. I decided to take on the task of capturing as many moments as I could before moving back to Miami. Singing is another way I get rid of stress, so I also joined Touro’s very own a cappella group, In the Key of D.O. And last but not least, there’s cooking. I enjoy uniting all the different spices that I have acquired in this melting pot that is New York. Before, my cooking was mostly Cuban, but now it’s a mix of everything, and it brings me a lot of happiness to hear friends or family say “yum” when they taste my food.
You have to keep putting the big picture in perspective. I’m the perfect example of this, because stress got to me at some point and my health suffered. Now that I’m rotating in hospitals, I notice how small a 200-question test in front of a computer seems as opposed to a 17-year-old who’s about to have a gallbladder removal asking, “Will you be there with me in the operating room and when I wake up?” You have to have persistence and optimism to make it through this career. You will forget many things when you get out of an exam, but you never forget the first patient you try to revive at 2 a.m. in the ICU. You never forget the 55-year-old woman with pancreatic cancer and the Whipple procedure you did. Through patients, the knowledge that seems to slip out of your brain like a waterfall comes back and stays for good once you see it happen and you interact with that patient. If you are a student with compassion towards human beings you will never lose that.