Back in March, I pursued an opportunity to present findings from my research at a symposium in the Netherlands that coming August. As with most of my adventures, I planned to add some pleasure to this business trip.
I have a fair amount of stamps from the Netherlands in my passport (thank you Delta / KLM transfers) but this was the first time I left the airport. I spent most of my time in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I also skipped over to Den Haag for a solid 40 hours. See captions below for a quick overview:
Approaching Amsterdam– those man-made canals make this city look a bit odd from the air!
Tulip bulbs and marijuana for sale
At the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam! A €15 “sprintplaats” (rush ticket) scored me this view with an open bar before the show and during intermission. The Dutch really know how to encourage attendance! Julia Fischer on the wicked Chatsjatoerjan (Dutch spelling of Khachaturian) concerto. Having played this in UM’s campus orchestra (with a soloist from the music school) I knew the music quite well. We were also treated to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and a Tchaikovsky symphony. SUCH a treat!
I am sterdam — on the walk after the Concergebouw
Enjoying dinner in Utrecht. Although Amsterdam gets international chatter, my vote goes to Utrecht, another canal city just 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. The architecture is a bit different. As you see from this picture, I’m sitting at a restaurant that is right next to the water; from what I saw, Amsterdam only has activity on the “upper” level.
Getting ready to go for a canal ride! Notice the bike garage in the background. 🙂
I’ve struggled with putting pen to paper on this topic for quite some time because, in short, the story is complicated. For the sake of a blog post, I figured the best way to succinctly share is to publish a short response I submitted for a secondary medical school application.
Discuss a time when you stepped out of your comfort zone. What were the challenges? What did you learn?
In August, I had my first opportunity to travel to the Netherlands. International travel always presents challenges, but this trip in particular pushed me out of my comfort zone: I was attending the International Symposium for Young Adults with von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) as both a patient and a professional, presenting my dissertation research on reproductive counseling for young VHL-positive people.
During introductions, we were encouraged to share our current “VHL challenge”; I met people like T who had traveled 30+ hours by train, because his current post-operative instructions barred him from flying. I was moved by my peers’ courageous stories, simultaneously feeling blessed and self-conscious of NOT having the token scar along the nape of my neck indicative of brain surgery. I was shaken from these inner reflections when K shared her concerns that VHL would be incompatible with having children. Trying to offer help, the symposium coordinator singled me out as a “subject matter expert”. I flushed.
I enjoy public speaking, but presenting as both a patient and researcher quickened my heart rate. I was confident in my research, but the topic of reproduction is nevertheless sensitive. My presentation increased the awkward gap between the participants and me until I finished an interactive presentation with a silenced audience. Later that evening, participants began to approach me individually, sometimes with a reflective statement, technical questions, philosophical musings, or a quiz about my personal views. More commonly, however, they greeted me with positive encouragement: we are really appreciative to hear this from a VHL-positive person like you who not only knows her stuff but truly GETS it. As a physician, balancing authoritative knowledge with empathetic care will be a persistent challenge, but I know the more I practice navigating this awkward tension, the better I will be able to serve my patients.
A slide from the presentation before mine. This supports one of the findings of my research: adoption is a “forgotten” option.