“The way up and the way down are one and the same.” - T. S. Eliot
Two weeks, or was it a month ago, on a calm Tuesday afternoon, I noticed in myself a distinct sign of discontent. This was surprising because I seemed to be on top of my affairs. So I stopped what I was doing and searched my consciousness. I slowly began to realize the source of the problem: I was feeling complacent. All those big dreams I had last year? I had unwittingly stifled them in the face of difficulties and obstacles, and resigned myself to accept something less.
In the midst of my introspection, I got a phone call from my dear friend Diana Katusiime, another Ugandan international student. Diana is probably the most enthusiastic person I know, but I could guess from her tone that she was enthusiastic about something in particular today. Well, I was right. Diana had just gotten an $11,000 sponsorship to start her second year at the university. Wow, how did that happen?
“Let me tell you,” she replied. “God is good.”
As if contagious, I caught her enthusiasm. As our energies gradually aligned, Diana began to tell a story that inspired me, and eventually led me to the solution for my own dilemma. I tell it to you in the hopes that you will be similarly inspired.
A Heart of a Doctor
"If you're committed, you'll do what it takes."
In the first quarter of 2006, back home in Uganda, Diana was waiting to receive her medical school admission results. She had to be a doctor, it wasn’t just her dream; it was a dream that belonged to her family, friends and everything she holds dear.
The admissions results get posted in the national newspaper, so she woke up early, nervous, yet hopeful enough to go out looking for the paper. She opened the paper and flipped to the results….disappointment. Her name was not listed.
She was sad, Diana told me, but determined to try again. She would spend the next four years preparing to apply again – studying and getting experience in the field. Surely that would put her in a good position to re-apply in 2010.
After three years studying in a clinical medicine course, Diana got her internship at a hospital in Fort Portal, a remote town in western Uganda near the Rwenzori Mountains, about 200 miles from her home in Kampala.
It turned out to be the perfect place to hone her medical skills. The patient to doctor ratio there was overwhelming, and sometimes there were no doctors available at all. It meant Diana was often working hands-on diagnosing and treating patients.
“We had no oncologists, so I taught myself how to administer chemotherapy to my patients,” she told me. “Despite their suffering, my patients were full with hope and expecting good things to happen. How could I give up? They inspired me to keep going.”
By the end of the experience, Diana felt fully ready to apply to medical school again. She had improved so much that she could hold her own among many of the doctors.
“I did not need a lumbar puncture to know it was meningitis. Our bodies react differently to different diseases, but I understood meningitis and its disguises.” She said. “If something didn’t work, I’d go back to the drawing board, hit the books and try everything medically possible.”
The Return To Med School, Interrupted.
“Good things come to those who hustle while they wait.”
So, in 2010, four years after her first attempt, Diana applied to the same medical school as before. She had confidence, experience and credibility from her four years of hard work; surely this was it.
Once again she got up early. Once again she went out to grab the newspaper, anxious but excited to learn the results of her hard work. She shouldn’t be nervous. She wanted this. Today she would reach the goal she’d been working towards for four long years.
Her application was rejected. For the second time. Diana was devastated, and she told me that this time she thought it was time to give up.
“I had never been that disappointed, ever. I didn’t understand why. I thought it was the system,” she said.
I didn’t know this at the time, but she told me that my dad (her mentor) helped her move on from her disappointment, saying, “You don’t have to be a doctor to be successful in medicine. All you have to do is be the best at your craft.” She took his words to heart and resolved that, though she might never be a doctor, she would go back to work and be the best at her craft.
Somewhere in Michigan, but First…
“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”
But meanwhile, Diana’s hard work at the hospital had caught the attention of three medical interns from the University of Michigan. Impressed by her enthusiasm, knowledge and ability to innovate in the face of obstacles, they persuaded her to apply for medical school at the University of Michigan.
This time, she was accepted.
It was not long until Diana’s story spread around her circles. Inspired by her journey, the family and distant relatives, friends and friends of friends, well wishers and acquaintances (some American) all came together to raise finances for her tuition and plane ticket.
I was one of those inspired by her journey. Hearing her story led me to reflect on my own life. I realized that I have been holding on to so much and in effect it was holding me back. I wasn’t moving forward. Diana inspired me to say two things that I needed to hear myself say:
Dear past… thanks for all the lessons! Dear future… I'm ready! I'm ready to fight for my dreams, because when you fight for your dreams, your dreams will fight for you.
Today, at the Prevention Research Center of Michigan, Diana confronts unique challenges with the same brilliance and creativity, only smarter, sharper and more determined than before to achieve her dream. I asked her, as our phone call came to an end, “How you feel about the way things turned out?”
“Much better than I ever dreamed of!”