This story on professionalism was submitted by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Paul L. Foster School of Medicine students Gulnara Martorella and Jade Jurak on behalf of fellow classmate Vivek Choudhary.
On Saturday afternoon, January 3, 2015, Jade Jurak and I headed to El Paso after our winter vacation in Austin in anticipation of our new spring semester at Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. Before embarking on an 8.5 hour drive, I went to the Austin Subaru dealership to change the oil in my 2014 Subaru Crosstrek. After doing so that morning, we were assured that our vehicle was safe and ready to drive. Later that afternoon we began our journey.
After four hours of being on the road, we noticed the snow started settling on the sides of the highway. Suddenly my engine started making loud shattering sounds. We went into rapid deceleration and had to pull off on the side of I-10. My attempt to start the car failed: I could hear the metal of the engine beating against it. It seemed like the car didn’t have any oil in it and my dashboard did not have any warning lights either.
We called Subaru Road Side Assistance and my car insurance company. After 2.5 hours on the phone, they told us that help should arrive in another two hours. It already started getting dark. Two cars pulled off to the side of the highway, men came out and told us that “their friends” called them and told them that we didn’t have gas so they wanted to see if we needed help. Terrified and feeling unsafe, we called 911 and requested for help to come and stay with us until the tow truck arrived to take the car. After waiting for another hour with no police in sight, and only two officers on duty in the nearby city of Fort Stockton – due to all the snow-related traffic accidents – we made a second 911 call. At about 10 p.m., still stranded on the side of the dark highway in freezing temperatures, Subaru Road Assistance called me and announced that one tow truck company did not want to come that far for us and the remaining companies were not responding since they were short of staff due to recent snow storms. The only help we could get would involve waiting an additional 3.5 hours. Left with no other options, we
had to accept the offer. Meanwhile, the police came. The only place that they could offer us that would be safe and had electricity to charge our phones was the local jail waiting room area in Fort Stockton.
Meanwhile, I received a text message from our classmate, Vivek Choudhary, inquiring about my winter vacation and if I am in El Paso ready to start another semester. Casually, I mentioned about our horrendous experience with Subaru and that we were stranded on the highway and were about to leave my car on the side of I-10 and head to the Fort Stockton jail.
Once we got to the jail and charged our phones, we tried to find hotels in Fort Stockton to spend the night. Everything was sold out. Our other option would be to drive to Midland with the tow truck driver who was bringing the car to Subaru dealership and look for a hotel in Midland and eventually get a rental car to hopefully make it by Monday morning to be on time for classes. Only later I found out that nothing was open on Sundays in Midland TX, and the hotels didn’t have any availability.
About an hour later I received a phone call from Vivek asking me about my precise location. Apparently, once he had heard about our troubles, he left El Paso immediately. Jade and I could not believe it. It never even occurred to us to ask for help at midnight from someone who was a four-hour drive away from us. Even if someone would offer, we wouldn’t have accepted such sacrifice of time and energy and would have tried to resolve the problem on our own. Since Vivek was already an hour away from El Paso, we accepted his generous offer. We were touched by his action to the bottom of our hearts.
He arrived to the Fort Stockton jail at 4 am. We loaded up our belonging and Jade’s dog and headed back to El Paso. We were fortunate to be in El Paso on Sunday morning instead of facing a possibility of not returning for a few days due to lack of options in Midland, TX.
Neither Jade nor I have ever recalled a situation where we felt so scared, helpless and powerless to change our circumstances. We were so touched by Vivek’s action at a time when we were left with no options, that we want to publicly express our gratitude for what he has done.
I also want to thank Paul L. Foster School of Medicine for attracting students who are selfless, kind and supportive of one another. My experience of the medical education and training would not be the same without witnessing such an incredible level of comradeship and support present in our community.