Allah will give you more than you’ve expected– Unknown

So this post will be a little mix of everything, including an update on scrubbing in! This month is my first outside rotation, which is at the Veterans Affair Hospital in Philadelphia. We had the option to do a general podiatry rotation at our school clinic which is a 10AM -2:30 shift, or to rotate at the VA from 7 AM-4 PM. I honestly wanted the experience of an outside rotation prior to my externships next year inshaAllah, despite the fact that it’s longer hours and much more work. But the way that I looked at it was that there are new faces, new patients, new places!

The first day of my rotation, I entered the VA Hospital with trepidation, equally excited and nervous. The prospect of dealing with old gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries, with the added experience of the OR, was what really interested me in this rotation. On the other hand, I was unsure of how a military establishment in West Philly might view a hijabi girl in skirt scrubs, especially in light of recent events. I renewed my intention that I was here to learn and to represent a good image of my religion. If anyone expressed any negative opinions to me, I would take it in stride and ignore the ignorance. We’re bound to have some unpleasant experiences anyway, so I planned to use any as practice for any future encounters.

However, I was in for some pleasant surprises. As I made my way into the building and to the podiatry floor at 6:30 AM, no one gave me any suspicious glances. In fact, they smiled and granted me a good morning. The physicians and residents were very welcoming and eager to teach. After the rules of the outpatient clinic were explained, the supervisor on the floor took me aside to speak with me. She told me that she knew each of the patients on the appointment lists, and advised me to check with her prior to taking a patient to the examination room. She knew which patient were “inappropriate” and could say hurtful comments about Muslims. She also related a story to me about a hijabi medical student in another department who was verbally abused by a patient several months ago, and how the police were involved. For that reason, she related to me that many of the veterans suffered from PTSD and had flashbacks, so if any did mention anything to not take it personal. True to her word, this entire week she has made sure that I have not taken any of those types of patients, and instead has one of the two other students, both males, to examine them instead.

Alhamdulillah,the patients themselves have been so far very pleasant experiences. Some of them have been quirky but funny characters that enjoy sharing their stories with the student doctors. Others have more unfortunate stories to tell that remind you to thank Allah SWT for the blessings that He has bestowed upon us. One patient told me that he has been shot at, stabbed and suffered frostbite in which several of his toes were amputated, yet he is extremely sensitive and a crybaby when it comes to any treatment of his fungal toenails. Another patient informed me that he was recently diagnosed with throat cancer, and this is is the one of the very last times that he would ever speak as his voice box is to be surgically removed very soon. A blind veteran and former engineer described to me his work in Vietnam and how he never saw his wife, children or grandchildren. Not to be paranoid, but his story caused me to wonder if he knew that he was being treated by a Muslim female wearing hijab, would he have dealt with me any differently?

An additional bonus to rotating at the VA is that as students, we have the opportunity to scrub in to the surgeries that are scheduled every Wednesday. For those who have read my previous post about scrubbing in, you know the struggles that I have endured during my OR rotation. So when the resident asked me if I could scrub in, I told her that I needed to keep my hijab on and that no male could view my arms when I scrubbed in. To my pleasant surprise, they worked with my requirements. I placed a surgical cap on my hijab, and the circulator placed a sterile towel around my neck to cover the hijab (yes it looked like a bib but fashion doesn’t matter in the OR!). I was the last of the surgical team to scrub in, and when I entered through the OR door the males hd their backs turned until I slipped into my surgical gown. Once the surgery was over, I waited until the other team members broke sterile field and one held my scrub jacket while the other took off my gown to ensure that I was covered.

Alhamdulillah, my experience at the VA has been way better than I expected. I was prepared to face some hostility, and not a little prejudice, but have met some great people, both physicians and patients. However, the month is still young, and I may have to endure some unpleasant situations, but at least I have an idea of how things will run when I start externships next year inshaAllah.

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