By Eugene Achi, M.D., UAMS Neurology Residency Class of 2014
On my most recent visit to the United States of America, I decided to embark on a road-trip down memory lane and took I-49 towards Little Rock, Arkansas. As I took the Cedar and Pine exit, the famous structure of the John McClellan veterans hospital unfolded before my eyes with the campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences ornamenting the background. I was immediately overcome by a mixture of emotions, a familiar sensation I often experienced upon returning to the place of my childhood. I soon found myself wandering through the tiny parallel streets of Hillcrest across from the medical campus in search of the places where I once lived. The memories of eight wonderful years of my life came rushing back. Vibrant colors of the foliage during the fall in Little Rock struck my eyes with their ethereal beauty. It was not my poetic imagination painting these images, and yet I felt as if I was witnessing these for the first time. I marveled at the beauty of the place, and wondered if I had truly ever appreciated it!
I savored the bitter taste of nostalgia in the back of my throat as my mind processed one frame at a time. Hillcrest, Murray Park, the Arkansas River, the two Rivers Bridge… Eventually, my steps led me to the place where most of my days were spent, the UAMS campus. I retraced my journey beginning with the medical school admissions office, and ending in the neurology clinic. I wandered the halls aimlessly searching for a memory in each corner, my mind on auto-pilot, as if I had never left the place. Old faces welcomed me with surprised smiles and open arms and slowly, a calm sense of happiness of belonging took over.
I entered the neurology offices where I sat for many lectures, and was fortunate to sit down with Dr. Archer. I admired his everlasting patience that never seems to waiver, as I listened to him answer a clinical question on the phone. Then I told him my story, my experience at Vanderbilt during my fellowship, my two years in private practice in south Louisiana, and my most recent transplant overseas to the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi.
Telling my story over and over again to these wonderful people helped put things into perspective, as if I had suddenly begun to see myself from afar, as an observer. It IS a wonder where my journey has taken me…from Lebanon as a child, to Louisiana as an adolescent, to Little Rock Arkansas as a young man, and now across the world to Abu Dhabi as a physician. At that exact moment, I felt truly grateful. I expressed this gratefulness to Dr. Archer, for what UAMS and its faculty had given me over the years. The powerful gift of knowledge that turned me into a confident clinician, capable of relying on his solid training to practice medicine anywhere in the world. The accountability and tremendous responsibility I once held as an intern and resident at this place is what truly molded me and my best friends from residency into confident and caring neurologists.
Indeed, these friendships that blossomed out of the residency program were worth all of the struggles. I left the neurology program at UAMS having found some of my best friends for life. To this day my best friends and I fondly recall many funny moments we shared together in residency and laugh together. Their paths, journeys and humble achievements speak for the training we have all had.
Jamil Dibu is now head of the neurointensive care program at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi having completed a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic Ohio. I am fortunate to work with him, my former co-resident and best friend. Shadi Yaghi has recently accepted the position of chief of stroke division and Stroke clinical Research director at NYU Langone Health, having graduated from Columbia University. Aline Herlopian has just joined the faculty at Yale as an epileptologist after graduating from MGH. We may have each gone our separate ways, but we will always have an unbreakable bond formed from our happy days at UAMS.
Eugene Achi, M.D., is a staff physician in the Neurological Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, Abu Dhabi