Where’s home for you?

A Message from the Director of Student Services, Ethan Stonerook, MPAS, PA-C '12, MS

You can’t see the future coming – not the terrors, for sure, but you also can’t see the wonders that are coming, the moments of light-soaked joy that await each of us. - John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed
A young man wearing a plaid shirt smiling at the camera.

After being accepted to Wake PA in 2009, Val and I left our one year old with my folks and traveled to Winston to look for a place to live. We both grew up in coastal Florida, where middle class suburban homes were built out of concrete block to withstand hurricanes. Our first drive through Ardmore, the neighborhood that surrounds Baptist Hospital, felt like something out of a 1950s movie set. Century old Craftsman style bungalows, sidewalks that were cool enough to actually walk, and Hydrangeas and Peonies sagging their heavy heads toward the green grass in blooming April. We stopped in front of a little bungalow with a “For Rent” sign in the yard and started looking through the windows of the covered front porch.

The neighbor, a tall, thin man with a generous smile, cut off his lawnmower and introduced himself. I’m Ben. Then he spent 30 minutes telling us about the street. Six weeks later he and his wife helped us move in.

The street was populated with children whose parents, having exited the toddler parenting stage, were filled with a nostalgic enthusiasm to care for us. The lawn mowing neighbor and his wife became our best friends. We would stay up late having deep conversations about marriage and parenting, culture, politics, philosophy, and theology. And although we sometimes disagreed on these topics, we were all deeply committed to truth and kindness. We all wept as we packed the moving van back up to drive back to Florida two years later.

Life ensued, including the demands of being a PA, additional children, mortgages, a job change, and all the other stuff. You know, life. All the while we had remained best friends with our two neighbors. My desire to teach at Wake PA and our love of Winston had never waned, and in August of 2018, Val and I found ourselves packing another moving van, now with four children, headed back to Ardmore. In the last 10+ years we have walked with each other through cancer diagnosis, my own burnout and recovery from my first job in leukemia and stem cell transplant, adolescent children in crisis, cultural turmoil and division, and the pandemic.

Earlier this week that tall, gentle, humble man with a big laugh, walked into his house and suddenly began having substernal chest pain. Within a few minutes he was handing his keys to the valet at the Baptist ED and a few minutes after that someone was applying EKG wires to his chest. He was having a STEMI. His wife texted us, and within 20 minutes we had put our own children to bed and found ourselves, at 10:00 at night, in the family waiting area of the Cardiac Cath lab. Alongside us were two other dear friends, one of whom happened to be an off-duty interventional cardiologist.

My friend remained awake during his cardiac catheterization. At one point he asked the fellow, “Is it a big one?”, (referring to the artery they were attempting to stent). “Yes, it’s a big one,” the fellow said in a sober tone. The cardiologist later said that, due to some anomalous anatomy, this catheterization was a “10” on the 1-10 scale of difficulty. Prior to the advent of PCI, our friend wouldn’t have survived.

On my way to clinic the next morning, I stopped into their room to bring him breakfast and coffee from Camino Bakery in Watlington Hall. We sat and talked in the morning light shining through the small vertical windows of Reynolds Tower. When I left, a fourth year medical student was presenting my friend’s case in the hallway. On my way into North Tower, I stopped and chatted with a second year PA student who was rotating on another service. So much of my life weaving into and out of the doors of this hospital, situated in this particular neighborhood.

The night he was discharged, we sat around their patio table, right next door to the little Bungalow we had moved into over a decade ago. (Another newlywed couple is there now, with their one year old daughter.) We reflected on what happened, on what could have happened. In true fashion, I had held it all together all week until a moment I looked at my friend across the table, laughing his generous laugh and got lost in the beauty of life, with tears of fearful gratitude quietly streaming down my cheeks. And as he laughed and I cried, I thought of this quote, by Sarah Dessen, “Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” And I wondered, what if we hadn’t laid down roots when we were in PA school? Where would we be and who would be our best friends?

As Val and I drove home across the neighborhood, a doe leapt across the road. No kidding; a female Whitetail deer in the middle of Ardmore, bounding in two beautiful strides across the street and into someone’s backyard.

And then I imagine that our friends went inside, brushed their teeth, sweetly pressed together their soft, quivering lips, and fell asleep in the front bedroom of their little house in Ardmore. “Home…not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter…”

Who are the people and the moments who have been those bricks for you? This program is rigorously fast paced, and so many of us come from somewhere else, what would it look like to stack a few bricks into a home here? I hope the faculty, staff, and your classmates can be a part of that. I promise to shut the lawnmower off if you ever stop by.