In today’s installment of the “4th of July” series, Dr. Marina Lien speaks her mind, from the heart… I’m in awe.
Hi Marina! July 4th is a big day for your family…
July 4 is a very special time for our family not only because it is our nation’s Independence Day, but it is also our oldest daughter Hannah’s birthday. And this year she is turning double digits! Since her birth, July 4th has taken on a double significance for us. In years past, we would gather with family and friends at our home to have a special celebration. This year we will take our celebration to the outdoors with grandparents, a picnic and fireworks on their farm on Old Hickory Lake in Lebanon.
I especially want to celebrate our nation this 4th of July. There has been so much wounding to this country and its people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Despite its imperfection, America is still the greatest country in the world. I am proud to say that I am a patriot. Every day I feel grateful to be living here. Millions in the world live in fear, reprisals and tyranny. My parents who were physicians in China told me many unthinkable stories of oppression living under the communist regime. In recent years, the Chinese government spent more money to monitor their citizens than on their military. The Chinese government forcefully removed all the crosses from churches across China recently. We have so much to be thankful for in this land of the free. God bless America!
What do you remember about July 4th as a kid?
I grew up in Hughes, Arkansas, a very small town of about 1000, in the Delta area. I grew up with my great uncle and great aunt, Chie and Ming Fong, who had the Fong Dept. Store, which at the time was the shopping center of the small town.
We grew up working in the store and about two weeks before July 4th, we would decorate the display window with something red, white, and blue to show our patriotism. On July 4th, after the store closed, we would go home and shoot fireworks in our yard. There was not much to do in the small town, so we took the opportunity to make it as exciting as possible. Just before the midnight hour, we would hear loud fireworks coming from farms in the area.
Please tell me about your medical practice… What drew you to medicine?
My husband, David, and I are both emergency physicians. We work in a busy community ER with high acuity. People often ask us whether it’s hard to work together. We used to overlap some shifts, but now with 3 children, we work on different days so one of us is usually available for the children. One of the perks of emergency medicine is the flexibility of the work schedules.
My path to medicine was a very winding road that took me across the country and the world. Though a career in medicine has always been in the back of my mind, having two physicians as parents, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get in debt for it when I graduated from college. So, when Yale offered me a spot in their PhD program in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, I jumped on it. But after a couple of years of research, I found life in a lab to be too tedious, so I took a year off and went to work for my brother who had just started a business in the Czech Republic. It was a great year of doing something I knew nothing about in a language that I couldn’t speak, but never had so much fun traveling all over Europe! At the end of that year, I also knew business was not for me. Medicine felt like the right path because it would combine my science background with a skill that can help people live better. The end result, I love my job! At the end of a shift, no matter what frustration, challenge, or failure, I can usually make a difference in someone’s life.
How have things changed in the time of corona for you, both at work and at home? How is your family doing?
Initially when the pandemic hit, work was plagued with much frustration and fear as Covid is so virulent, infections, and unpredictable. As more information became available and we know how to protect ourselves, we are now better able to navigate patient care.
On the home front, homeschooling our three children has been rewarding and fun. We have Hannah in 3rd grade and twins, Ava and Christian, in the first grade. Perhaps the best gift has been the opportunity to pour into our children spiritually. We start the day having devotions together and praying for people and our country. We are also spending a lot of time exploring and being curious about life in nature. Our pet population now consist of our beloved Sharpei of 16 years, 2 guinea pigs, 1 salamander, 1 turtle, 2 fish, 8 chicken that the children hatched 2 weeks ago, and 4 tadpoles that are being transformed into frogs as we speak.
How has your summer been so far?
The best thing for us this summer has been seeing synchronizing fireflies in the Smoky Mountains. They are very rare and the Elkmont in the Smokies is one of few places in the world that they can be seen. There are 19 species of fireflies in the Smokies and only one has such a unique courting ritual. It only happens during a two-week period around the end of May and beginning of June. Normally, there is a lottery system in place which is extremely difficult to win due to high demand and then crowding with hundreds of people to see it even if one wins. The event was canceled this year due to Covid, so we took a chance of driving there. We parked our car outside the trail as the road was closed as well. We hiked 1.5 miles in the dark one way as they can only be seen after dark, with the peak time around 10:30pm. We were rewarded with the most amazing sight of hundreds of fireflies synchronizing.
What’s been the hardest thing about life in the time of corona? What has been the best thing?
The hardest thing about the time of corona is seeing all the economic and human life cost both to individuals and the country as a whole, the disruption of life and work on so many levels for everyone.
The best thing in this time has been seeing the support that people give to one another. As many people found, families get to spend a lot more time together. We had many friends and family here and overseas sending us masks and other PPEs, supporting us with prayers and cards.
What has surprised you about yourself or others in the time of corona?
We are much stronger than we think.
What do you worry about most right now?
A resurge of Covid patients due to people being complacent or simply tired of having to be careful, and not taking precautions to prevent the spread.
How do you relax?
Taking the time to sit down and watch a cartoon with my children.
Will you travel this summer? Eat in a restaurant?
We don’t have plans to travel this summer. There is so much nature in Tennessee that we can explore, and many would be perfect day outings. We are still avoiding indoor public places such as restaurants as much as possible.
What are you reading/watching/listening to?
I found my faith to be so important especially in this time and have been reading the Bible more than ever. It never ceases to amaze me that after thousands of years, it still has all the answers to the problems in the world.
Another book that I highly recommend is Kitchen Table Wisdom, Stories that Heal, written by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. She was a professor of family medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. As physicians, we are trained to think analytically and to act on evidence-based medicine, we don’t usually allow ourselves to be emotionally involved with patients. In her book, Dr. Remen talks about the healing power of the heart. Curing is not the same as healing. Each patient has their own story and unique experience. Sharing these stories helps each other heal.
What discourages you right now?
There is a lack of accountability and truth telling that is threatening to destroy our country.
Who or what inspires you?
My great uncle Chie Fong who raised me is the wisest man I have ever known. He told us many stories about being a Chinese American living in one of the most racially challenging periods for the Chinese in American history. His father was one of the Chinese railroad workers, and he brought Chie to America when he was 12 years old after buying into a business in Arkansas. Chie had to quit school after 6th grade so he could help his father run the store. He continued to educate himself by reading the newspaper every day. He attributed his success as one of the oldest merchants in eastern Arkansas (prior to the invasion of Wal-Mart that is) to his hard work and right living. He used to tell us that if you do what is right in God’s sight, then you do not need to be afraid to stand and speak up, and if you work hard, this country will give you all the opportunities you need to be successful. He helped many relatives and friends in his lifetime. He quoted JFK to us often, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He was and still is an inspiration to me for he lived a life of courage, tenacity, and kindness.
Do you think it is possible to come out of this period of time with greater cohesion as a society?
I would like to think so. We have more in common than that which divides us. To quote Jake (John Cusack) from Must Love Dogs, “You know, but I think your heart grows back bigger. You know? Once you get the shit beat out of you. And, um, the universe lets your heart expand that way, and I think that’s the function of all this pain and heartache that you go through and you gotta go through that to come out to a better place and that’s how I see it, anyway.”
Okay let’s wrap up with the speed dating round!
Favorite beverage in the time of corona?
A cup of English Tea with sugar and cream
Cooking, on a quest to try all the recipes by Donna Hay, my favorite cookbook author
People not wearing masks in the public, putting themselves and others at risk.
Cool days with a gentle breeze.
Favorite time of day?
Least proud of?
Hiding in the pantry to snack after telling my children they couldn’t have any.
Most proud of?
Putting into practice childrearing techniques from the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Best advice for staying sane and healthy?
I find daily reflection with gratitude for all the good things in my life and in the world has always helped me to stay positive no matter the circumstances. Reminding ourselves often that this too shall pass and that we are all in this together will help lessen the feeling of isolation and annoyance at having to continue to take measures to prevent exposure and spread of the virus.
Getting out in nature as much as possible to allow all that greenness to remind us of how vibrant life is, even in the time of Corona.
Marina, your vibrant interview lifts my spirit. Thank you. xoxo