Growing up in Northern California it is customary to learn about the dangers of wildfires and their prevention. In grade school we practiced fire drills, created emergency evacuation plans, and learned about the iconic mascot, Smokey the Bear. Despite the early-life preparation and warnings from Smokey, I never imagined that I would see the devastation that results from a wildfire. Today marks three weeks after the onset of the firestorm that ravaged both Sonoma and Napa Counties in the Tubbs and Atlas Peak fires, respectively.
After many anxiety-filled days glued to the news, Nixle alerts, and Facebook, I can finally relax and return to my normal routine. Like most premeds, I am balancing multiple obligations, including studying for the MCAT, volunteering at a local hospital, managing extracurriculars, and working in a clinical laboratory. All of these obligations suffered throughout the two weeks of fires. At three weeks, I have finally regained a state of normalcy although everyone in my community is still shaken from the events.
Today I let out a sigh of relief when I unpacked my “go-bag,” which contained clothing items, forms of identification, a childhood photo album, and a N95 respirator mask. My hand-written MCAT notes, flashcards, and study books were also loaded into the car (I would honestly be devastated if these burned). The fires raged throughout my town and surrounding towns so I was ready to evacuate. The feeling of uncertainty caused me to lose sleep at night. Fortunately my neighborhood was never evacuated and my house is still standing. However, many people, including family, friends, and colleagues, have been less fortunate. Entire neighborhoods have burned to the ground and thousands of people are currently displaced with nothing left.
Despite the devastation that is still being felt here in my hometown, first responders have been a constant source of support throughout this tumultuous time of unknowns. Firefighters, PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric), police, medical professionals, and other emergency crews worked around-the-clock to keep people and property safe. Around eight thousand firefighters from other counties and states came to our aid, which made a huge impact on the fire’s containment. Physicians of all specialties were also called upon to staff local hospitals to care for fire victims and patients who were evacuated from hospitals threatened by the fires. The teamwork of all emergency personnel during this time kept the community safe. As a future physician, it delights me to know that one day I may be able to help if called upon in an emergency situation. I am truly so thankful for all of the first responders.
Last weekend I drove past a fire truck and mouthed “Thank You!” to the firefighters who smiled and waved back. As they drove ahead of me I started to cry, realizing that the circumstances would be much worse if they had not been there. I was emotional because I admire the firefighters for their courageousness and selfless service. While the fires burned, I put a lot of trust into their training and expertise to keep me safe.
These wildfires represent only one of many natural disasters that have faced the United States, and the world, in the past couple of months. Natural disasters can change a person’s life in an instant. Communities like mine will take years to rebuild. After going through this experience I started to reflect on my motivations to pursue a career in medicine. I believe that physicians have a great opportunity to serve people in-need and to make a positive impact on patients and communities as a whole. I am passionate about medicine because it is a profession that is rooted in selfless service. It is my goal to have the medical training and expertise to handle difficult situations in patient care but also to serve my community in emergency situations like this. As a future physician I hope to be a constant source of support to my patients and my community in times of unknown.
About Angela Arata
Angela Arata is from Napa, California and is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego with a BS in Human Biology. Angela recently completed the Pre-Professional Health Academic Program at California State University, East Bay in Hayward, California. When she isn’t studying, Angela enjoys exercising, reading, cooking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. Angela aspires to be a culturally competent physician and lifelong mentor to those following in her path. You can follow Angela Arata’s Pre-med journey on Instagram: @angelaarata.