The friendship we formed as Rice students sustains us from a distance as doctors in New York City.

Illustration by Allison Kerek

Chethan: I applied early decision to Rice. I wanted to go to a place that was warm and friendly and very diverse. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of being in a frat. I loved the idea of the residential college system. And when I visited when I was a junior in high school, I fell in love with it. I was really happy when I got in. I studied psychology and global health technologies, and we both did premed classes on the side. I was pretty set on doing medicine as a career.

Simone: I applied to Rice and Emory. I remember going to [visit] Rice in February when the weather was perfect. I remember students of every color talking and partying together, the classes were small and I really felt it was an amazing environment. Probably the No. 1 reason why I picked Rice was because of this diversity. I came from a very Southern town, and it was very segregated. I remember being so amazed about how everyone at Rice got along — we went to each other’s homes on the holidays and all hung out. Even today, when we’re in New York City going through everything that’s going on right now, we are still hanging out with each other via social media. 

I happened to be in New York City to interview for my residency at the time of the holiday party. That’s my memory of coming to New York — Simone introducing me to the city.

Chethan: Simone and I took organic chemistry together, and I think we were in the same general chemistry class, too. So we would study together. I remember sitting next to her in organic chemistry and being intimidated. She had been doing research and had all this biochemistry interest.

Simone: We both were O-Week coordinators. He was at Hanszen and I was at Sid Rich. We spent the whole summer together, planning and coordinating the welcome week for new students. And when Chethan was thinking of coming to New York City for his residency, I said, “Let me show you the city.”

Chethan: Rice has a holiday party every year and it’s very swanky. Everyone’s dressed up really nice, and there are hundreds of alumni ranging from recent grads all the way to people who graduated 50 years ago. I happened to be in New York City to interview for my residency at the time of the holiday party. That’s my memory of coming to New York — Simone introducing me to the city.

The Rice Owls in New York are a very outgoing and interesting group — even if you didn’t know them at Rice. After you meet them a couple times here, you kind of feel like you had a Rice experience with them. It’s definitely having the alumni network here that has made it so amazing and so much fun.

Simone: I always invite other people who didn’t go to Rice out to Rice events because there are so many here, which I love. And my friends comment, “Wow, your alma mater is the best” and “I feel so welcome at all these events.” If I did not have my Rice community, it would have been hard for me to truly enjoy New York. 

As a resident — a doctor in training — you work a ton of hours. The way I like to de-stress and get my mind off the rigors of residency is by hanging out with people. I’m infamous among my friends because I’m always saying, “Let’s go out! We have to see each other!” Ever since the quarantine began, I would come home and it would be me, in my apartment, by myself. By the end of March, it really hit me that … I miss how things used to be.

I’m relying on social media and a lot of phone calls to keep my spirits up. We used to hang out a lot, but now we FaceTime when our schedules permit.

Chethan: I also had a big social change, just like Simone. [COVID-19] kind of hit all of a sudden in early March. It seemed like every day, there was something else that was more serious and more concerning. We like to go out together and hang out as much as we can with the rest of our friends, many who went to Rice. That was a big change for me — also not having the gym, restaurants and the things we’re used to doing in New York City. 

Simone: Even though we have completely different specialties, Chethan knows exactly what I’m going through. We’re able to vent, and we’re just a phone call away. I’m relying on social media and a lot of phone calls to keep my spirits up. We used to hang out a lot, but now we FaceTime when our schedules permit.

Chethan: I’ve been at Bellevue Hospital on the wards. As a senior resident, I am in charge of at least 20 patients. These are too sick to go home but are not sick enough to be in the intensive care unit (ICU). So I have a lot of patients with COVID-19, at least half of them. And a few of them were sick enough to get intubated while I was taking care of them. I had many more who were safe enough to go home, and we discharged them being COVID-19 positive. 

I’ve seen very mild cases of COVID-19 where people have a few fevers and maybe a cough and shortness of breath. And then I have other cases where people are very short of breath, very feverish and have very high oxygen requirements. I’ve had patients who decompensated, who needed to be intubated and moved to the ICU. And I’ve had multiple situations in between, too — so I’ve seen how serious [COVID-19] is. A lot of the care really has to do with just being supportive and making sure someone’s hydrated and getting the kind of monitoring they need. We don’t really know exactly what’s curing or helping people.

We don’t really know exactly what’s curing or helping people.

Simone: In my current rotation, I’m seeing high-risk pregnancies. There are a good number of pregnant women who are sick with COVID-19. They may look very sick one minute and then be fine the next. We just don’t have enough data, but as far as we’ve noticed, there’s no major difference in outcomes between nonpregnant and pregnant women.

Chethan: I definitely feel the city of New York has really supported us. We have a ton of free food every shift. 

Simone: The meals are great. We don’t have to figure out when we’re going to get our next meals. We have time to decompress. They have areas in the hospital for us to meditate. There’s a psych intern who came to our floor and asked, “Do you guys want to talk to someone?” And we said, “Yes!” And a hospital priest came to give us a prayer and a blessing. It was really nice. I’m not even Catholic, but I am all for it.

Chethan: The 7 p.m. cheer that happens every night is awesome. It’s definitely a morale boost. [For a few weeks,] I could only really watch people’s videos of it. I recently got to experience it, and it was really cool.

Simone: The first time I experienced [the cheering] was here in my apartment. I opened my window and it was awesome. One day, the policemen came and drove around outside the emergency room — they were blasting “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra. I had just gotten off work and some random stranger said, “Good job, young lady!”

The first time I experienced [the cheering] was here in my apartment. I opened my window and it was awesome.

Chethan: I was remembering how we would study for our premed courses, and now we’re in the same city doing our residency. Although our experiences are different because we’re in different specialties, different medical institutions, different parts of New York City, it’s still something we go through together because we both have this residency work during a crisis.

Salman Khan was our commencement speaker and he said something like, “The experience you have now, the friendships you build, the people you know in this community, you should never let go. You should always remember where you came from and connect later on in life. These are your people who are going to be supportive of you.” And I think that really is true. The friendships that I built in college have remained very important to my happiness and my success in a lot of things. 

Simone: I think it’s the same for me, too. 

This conversation is edited for length and clarity and is based on two interviews conducted by Jenny Blair, a science writer and medical doctor living in Brooklyn.

Simone Elder is a second-year OB-GYN resident at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She is originally from Snellville, Georgia. She was a member of Sid Rich College.

 

Chethan Ramprasad is a third-year internal medicine resident at the New York University Langone Medical Center, which includes Bellevue Hospital and the Veterans Affairs Hospital. He is originally from Cincinnati and lived in Hanszen College at Rice.

 

To read more stories from our Summer 2020 issue on COVID-19, go here.

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