Taka Nah Jelah
The day I made the life-changing decision to become a physician was the day I felt the chilling grip of mortality. I can still vividly recall that moment, trapped in a broken-down taxi on a desolate highway. The chaotic scene unfolded before me as other cars fled and the neighborhood emptied, leaving only the menacing figures of the black-clad shooters. The taxi driver desperately tried to restart the car, urging me to stay buckled in. But his efforts were in vain, and he abruptly abandoned the vehicle, leaving me stranded in the passenger seat. With damaged door handles and no means of escape, I found myself surrounded by the intensifying sound of gunshots, the presence of the shooters becoming alarmingly clear to my myopic eyes.
As I frantically searched for an exit, thoughts of impending doom raced through my mind. In that critical moment, I pondered the various ways my life could be cut short. Would I survive long enough to reach a hospital? Would my years of healthcare experience and volunteer work offer any solace? Doubt clung to me, for I had witnessed the shortcomings of the healthcare system firsthand.
Two years earlier, I tragically lost my father to liver cancer at a local medical facility. The journey to his diagnosis had been plagued with misdiagnoses and dismissals, as his symptoms were attributed to commonplace ailments like malaria or even witchcraft. Eventually, he received a diagnosis and underwent a scan that confirmed the presence of a liver tumor requiring removal. However, the necessary expertise was absent in Cameroon, so we sought treatment abroad. While we navigated the complexities of travel documents and fundraising, my father's condition worsened as the cancer progressed and metastasized. Despite eventually undergoing surgery and returning home, a lack of regular checkups led to tumor recurrence. Time ran out, and his diagnosis became a death sentence. In the final moments I spent with him, I couldn't help but wonder if he would have had a better chance if Cameroon's healthcare system had been more functional.
Amidst my grief over my father's passing, I found myself thrust into mourning once again as a political crisis engulfed our nation. The Anglophone crisis emerged in 2016 as protests and demonstrations erupted in Cameroon's Northwest and Southwest regions, where English is predominantly spoken. Deep-rooted causes of the conflict can be attributed to historical grievances arising from the marginalization and perceived discrimination endured by the Anglophone minority within a predominantly Francophone nation.
The government's response to the initial protests triggered a rapid escalation of violence, leading to a protracted armed conflict, escalating casualties, and a wave of displaced individuals. It was during this turmoil that I encountered two nonprofit organizations collaborating with a regional hospital to aid the wounded and provide support to the displaced. Seizing the opportunity to volunteer, I found myself immersed in an intense and eye-opening experience that spanned two years. Within the surgical wards, I encountered survivors who had narrowly escaped burning and gunfire during raids. The nurses graciously trained me in wound care for burns and injuries, allowing me to assist under their guidance. Moreover, I shadowed numerous physicians, participated in health campaigns, and even spearheaded community health outreach programs.
This invaluable exposure constantly confronted me with the shortcomings of the healthcare system. The perpetually depleted blood bank, the delayed seeking of medical care until conditions became dire—for 18 months, I witnessed firsthand the failures that had failed my father. Each day, I was confronted with the grim reality of the countless ways lives were lost. Often, the victims were those who had been relatively healthy. Take Ekema, for instance, whose diabetic wound I diligently cleansed daily. One morning, as I walked into his room, I was met with an empty bed. Hoping he had been discharged, I eagerly inquired, only to be informed of his untimely demise. Then there was Lum, a resilient 22-year-old who survived a bus hijacking and subsequent immolation. Despite enduring severe burns, she seemed to bear less pain over time as we tended to her wounds. I foolishly believed she was on the road to recovery, but a few days later, she tragically passed away. Witnessing patients enter the hospital with hope, only to be carried away to the morgue, fueled my burning desire to contribute to the transformation of healthcare.
As I struggled to escape from that taxi, the memories of those heartbreaking moments surged through my mind. It was in that moment of desperation that I resolved to become a physician, driven by my lack of faith in the Cameroonian healthcare system and its insufficient specialized training. I took a bold leap and secured admission to pursue a premedical path in America, armed with the determination to make a difference.
My journey in the United States provided me with invaluable clinical exposure, shadowing esteemed physicians, and participating in health campaigns. I grew to appreciate the significance of comprehensive medical training, evidence-based research, and the transformative power of global healthcare collaborations. However, none of these revelations struck me as profoundly as my mother's battle with lung cancer.
In the summer of my junior year, mere days before I faced the daunting MCAT, I received the gut-wrenching news: “Mommy has been diagnosed with lung cancer.” Cancer had become synonymous with despair in my mind, perhaps due to the haunting memory of my father's demise. My heart weighed heavy with the burden of loss, having already endured my father's liver cancer, a civil war, a pandemic, and now my mother's diagnosis—all within a span of five years. Although my bold move to the US had been fueled by a sense of purpose, the true validation of that decision was about to unfold. I bore witness to my mother's unwavering resilience as she underwent chemotherapy; radiation; and, ultimately, life-saving surgery. Who would have imagined that a functional healthcare system could make such a profound difference? I did. In the depths of my being, I harbored a suspicion that the terrifying leap I had taken, spanning thousands of miles across the Atlantic, would one day serve a greater purpose.
In January 2023, I received the life-changing news of my acceptance into medical school. This achievement represents the culmination of a long and challenging journey, both physically and emotionally. Leaving behind my home to pursue this path was a decision filled with uncertainty and sacrifice. However, what once seemed like an impossible dream for the young girl from Cameroon has now transformed into a tangible reality.
Now, I am faced with a new set of challenges as I embark on this four-year journey through medical school, striving to become the best physician I can be. One of the immediate challenges is navigating the financial aspect of this training. However, I am determined to overcome any obstacles that come my way. I am committed to working tirelessly, dedicating myself to my studies, and embracing every opportunity for growth and learning. The significance of this journey is not lost on me, as I vividly remember the time when my life hung in the balance in that broken-down taxi.