Memories from Syria 5.0

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Damascus, winter 1994

It the six and final year of his Medical School. The year was full of practical externships. Everyone was concentrating on studying, but it wasn’t studying for Damascus University Medical School exam. Everyone he knew was studying for the American USMLE exam. Many were preparing for USMLE step 2 exam. We were lucky that the American Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduate allows students to take step 2 before step 1 which contains many basic sciences many of us forgot.

One of his friends was the only one he knew who already took and passed the Step 1 exam. That was Qahtan Malki, God bless his soul! Qahtan was his role model at that time. He was one of the main factors in his future success. He was the perfect man, smart, funny, sporty, and polite. He could not believe that the fate of such a brilliant man was to live a short life.

For the past few months, his mother was complaining of pain in her joints. She was trying to study English so that she can communicate with her daughters-in law in the US. He was focusing on his studies and listening to her complaints every once in the while in the background. Joint pains that come with old age can be very annoying, he thought. He used to give her a pain medication every once in a while, during his study breaks. She went to several doctors in Damascus and everyone told her ‘Rheumatism… Rheumatism’.

His father was starting to age too. After a long debate, he convinced him to stop the smoking which for sure was the cause of his difficulty breathing. He had no doubt that the smoking years had turned his lungs emphysematous. The only thing that he couldn’t change was that white glass that used to transform him every night from an amiable and good man into that mean person that he could never talk to. At that time, his mom and dad had been sleeping in separate rooms for several years and their relationship had became platonic at best!

When his mom’s joint pains was not going away, he decided to take the initiative and take her to one of my Medical School professor who was a Neurologist. He was known for his excellent clinical judgement and he was on a mission to get to the bottom line of his mom’s pains and eliminate them. They had a professional and a friendly meeting. He reviewed his mother’s clinical and past medical history. As usual, his mother never told him about the mastectomy that she had 12 years before. So he mentioned it to Dr. Sabah. He had a vague recollection…

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