A Poem of No Words - 5/8/16

"It's not what I didn't feel, it's what I didn't show." -Maroon 5

The following is a poem dedicated to the people I've underappreciated over the years. Happy Mother's Day.


If I never said how much I cared, it's because there were no words that could express how I felt.


If I never said you how important you were, it's because I couldn't admit it. My loneliness was so deeply ingrained that I  was scared of losing myself.


If I never said anything positive, it's because you were like an extension of my own being. A net that captured my insecurities, you saw a side of me that I was ashamed of.


If I never said anything at all for weeks or months, it's because I had nothing nice to say. And you deserved better than that.

If I never said I'm sorry, it's because I was afraid it would reveal to both of us how inadequate I was. Only later would I realize the opposite was true.

If I never said thank you, it's because I needed you -- like air or water. Was it gratitude? No, I simply wouldn't exist without.

If I never said I love you, it's because I was too weak... And I'm an idiot.



One Positive Thing - 4/10/16

My phone buzzed. I looked at the screen, it said "Reminder: 7:00 One Positive Thing". I had set the daily reminder for myself in an attempt to redeem any bad day by recalling an enlightening moment to turn around all else. In this moment, it seemed cruelly ironic as I was seething with rage.

I had gone out busking. It had been a good day. Over 2 hours in as I approached the end of my stint, I played the song "Low". A random lowlife walked by and snarked, "Yeah, earn that money like a stripper." I didn't much care for his statement, but I was accustomed to shrugging off such remarks, plus he kept walking was already pretty much gone. Then, a huge figure cloaked in a ratty red flannel shirt approached my bag. Her (?) dirty gray curls and overall appearance didn't seem much like a donor. She was reaching into my bag. Occasionally, people took change when they put in a bigger bill, but usually they asked. The person was silent and walked away. I didn't notice any money in her hand as it came out from the bag. But it was extremely suspicious -- I may just have missed it. I turned to onlookers and asked them, "Did that person just steal from my bag?" "Yeah." "What! That's fucked up. Why didn't you tell me?!" "I thought you saw..."

I was infuriated. Red flannel had me seeing red. I had considered this before -- the possibility of someone stealing from the bag -- but had resolved that it didn't really matter that much as they wasn't really a personal loss. Despite this hypothesis, when it actually happened, I was angry beyond myself. I considered running after her, but that would risk even more loss (of money or boombox). And even if I'd caught her, what was I going to do? Rob a (probably) homeless (definitely) obese (probably) woman? No, there was too much uncertainty there. The only certain thing was that I was furious. I was too close to the end of my shift to regain composure and continue so I packed up walked away.

As I walked down the street, I turned my music off. I was caught in the riptides of fury over this. Why did this bother me so much? It wasn't my money. Every dollar put into the bag meant more for me. It was faith -- in my idea and in me. It represented a trust that I felt had been betrayed. Even though it wasn't directly my fault, I felt responsible. I carried this burden -- this guilt.

My thoughts devolved further yet. I realized how vulnerable I was on the street. Why did I leave the comfort of my home to trudge through such a jungle? I was basically putting myself in a position to be physically harmed, verbally abused and/or victimized by criminals during every excursion. This could happen every time. Not only was I physically vulnerable, but more importantly, I was placing myself in a position where a single occurrence could occupy my entire mind and ruin my entire day. There was an emotional vulnerability which was married to my endeavors as well. This was an even higher toll.

And so my day was ruined by a scumbag... I drove home through the mental fog and violent thoughts which made me feel even worse. This was all I could think about or seemingly remember. I couldn't remember the moment all of the good that had preceded this minor catastrophe. I couldn't remember the other homeless guy who walked up with his cane and garbage bag full of belongings and reached into the bag to pull out and donate a bag of Snickers bites. I couldn't remember the Asian guy who asked if I would tag him in and then took center stage for a brilliant moment to drop some ferocious b-boy moves. I couldn't remember the chubby little kid in the down jacket who danced with me despite being mocked and nearly tackled (lovingly) by his sibling. I couldn't remember the adorable little girl in the flowing flowery dress that twirled beautifully when she turned in her bright red half-inch heels. I couldn't remember the muscular dude with the hipster beard who joined me in a dance triggering an enormous applause from the audience. I couldn't even remember the other random guy who came up to me and gave me a Milky Way. I had held the ENTIRE galaxy in my hand, and all I could remember was being skimped a few bucks by an anonymous poor person.

Or maybe I could remember everything else. Maybe I COULD remember all the good. Because I needed to remember. That's why I set the reminder, after all, and it was only 10 minutes until 7:00.


This is Water (the lost wallet) - 12/16/15

"I thought they might be stains from the barbecue you're coming from."


"Because you were licking your fingers."


That was when I became angry.


I had been stopped for "additional screening" by the TSA agents at the gate. It had been 14 years since 9/11, and I had been on numerous international and domestic flights all over the world since then. Despite my middle name being "Ali", I had never once been hassled by airport security until now.


I had a flight for an interview which I had intentionally slated for later in the day so that I could run the Santa speedo run before immediately heading to the airport. I had spent the morning making my costume for the race. I stuffed my wallet, phone and keys into the pockets of my white coat. After finishing the run, I ran a victory lap. Just as I was about to head home, I felt my pockets for my belongings. My keys were exactly where I'd left them. My wallet was not. Upon this realization, my mood switched like a light in the dark. My heart sank as my my mind scrambled with both the sense of emotional loss and rationality of next steps. The feelings were compounded by the sense of urgency created by the fact that I had a critical flight to catch. Despite how unlikely it was that I would ever see my wallet again, it was even less likely that I would be able to retrieve it before I needed to be at the airport. I've never been much for gambling. I put out some quick feelers by asking the organizers of the run and the management of the bar if they had heard anything. As I was the first person around the course, if I had dropped it while racing, some other runners might have picked it up. I figured this was my best chance. Those leads offered nothing. Instead, I systematically ran through current losses and potential problems. 


The inventory of my wallet that I could recall was:

2 credit cards

2 debit cards

~$50 cash

$350 Money order

Driver's license

A few random business cards

Hospital ID

Medical school faculty ID

ACLS certification card

Public transit card


Of these things, the only time-sensitive and important things were my credit/debit cards and my driver's license. In fact, losing my wallet allowed me to quantify exactly how much excess I was lugging around everyday (this was obviously a liberating point I would only appreciate after the dust had settled days later). I was planning on renting a car to get around to various sites for my interview, but thus would now be impossible since I had no license to drive. If I had no electronic funds accessible because I had no credit cards, I wouldn't be able to get around very easily at all since Uber or Lyft wouldn't function without them. I was in dire straits. It was about 1:30pm, and my flight was at 5pm... The clock was ticking.


I used my lifeline and phoned a friend. Tick. Thankfully, she was available, so I asked her to meet me at my place. Tock. Then I ran the 2 miles home while attempting to call the Bank of America helplines to cancel my credit cards. Tick. All the while through my distress, people kept stopping me for photos, and I couldn't decline. Tock. The run home took about 15 minutes, and I was still painted blue upon my arrival. Tick. I needed to shower, but my roommate was in the bathroom. Tock. So, I confirmed that I had my passport readily available to board my flight. Tick. My roommate finished in the bathroom, and I rushed in. Tock. I rubbed the blue paint off of my body as quickly as I could and put on clean clothes. Tick. I still hadn't been able to get through to Bank of America. Tock. It was a Saturday, so their branches would have reduced hours and most of them would be closed by now anyways. Tick. It was 2:15pm. Tock. I had no credit cards/debit cards, no money and hardly any time. Tick. I had some cash sitting around waiting to be deposited from my last charity busk, and despite my significant reservations, I could see no alternative in the moment, so I grabbed the ziplock and grabbed some cash. Tock. I counted it immediately, so that I could refill it when I had sorted everything out. Tick. My friend arrived just in time to nearly collide with me as I bolted out the door. Tock. My breathing was heavy, and I was aggressively biting my nails from anxiety. Tick. I looked up a Bank of America physical location that was open. Tock. There was only one nearby that was open until 3 pm. Tick. It was already 2:30 pm as we weaved through Saturday traffic. Tock. I finally reached the credit card helpline to have them freeze my credit cards and inquired about emergency replacements. Tick. They said I could only get emergency debit cards, and it would have to be from a physical location. Tock. "Ok, that's fine, I'm right outside one and about to walk in. Thanks." Click. I walked in and asked for an emergency debit card. It was 2:40 pm. The attendant said I needed my ID. I had forgotten my passport in the car, so I had to run out and grab it. Tock...


Finally, some progress was made toward calming my nerves as the Bank of America people were able to replace my debit cards very efficiently. I could survive now. I went to the ATM to activate my cards. I deposited the money that I had comandeered from my busking funds into my DBD account, and withdrew cash from my personal account instead. My friend dropped me off at the airport, but my troubles weren't finished yet.


I still had to figure out what I would do without my driver's license. To get around during my trip, I could spend some money on Uber or Lyft, but when I returned, I would still have no license and hence no way to get to work (I had to commute to Providence daily for my current rotation). I had already had to request several days off to attend the interview, so to request another day just to visit the RMV after I returned felt like it would be too much even though this felt like an emergency. As I continued to drown in my conundrum, I checked in at the airport kiosk and stood in line at the TSA checkpoint. My thoughts were entirely focused on my driver's license and the events of the morning as I exhibited the empty tic of nail biting.


I went through the scanning machine thoughtlessly. I was patted down by the guy on the other side which happened all the time because I always wore either suspenders or cargo pants which triggered 'hotspots'. Then, I was notified that I had been selected for additional screening. I couldn't have cared less. I was early to the airport, and my mind was spazzing out on a distant worry. What difference did it make whether my physical being was being frisked and my things unraveled or my body was sitting in an uncomfortable airport bench beside my bag? Either way, I would be doing the same thing: running various scenarios through my head and how to troubleshoot the driver's license dilemma.


So it began. First, I was quite thoroughly instructed on how the frisking was to proceed, then a quite thorough frisking proceeded. The single detail on the frisking that I will mention to summarize the experience was that I was impressed how his hand managed to palpate the narrow spaces between my scrotum and each inner thigh. "Uh huh, whatever", I thought. Then, two other TSA agents began rummaging through my neatly packaged things. All the while, they asked me questions. 


"So, how are you doing today?"

"Terrible, actually."

"Terrible? Why's that?"

"Well, I lost my wallet literally a couple hours ago, and now I have no driver's license,  and I spent the last hour or so trying to replace my debit cards so that I have access to my money while traveling. Now I can't rent a car when I get there and I'm on my way to an interview and I don't know how I'm going to get around."

"Oh no. How'd you lose your wallet?"

"I was running the Santa speedo run which I 'win' every year, and I must have dropped it."

"Oh man, did you win at least?"

"Yeah. I mean, it's not really a race; that's why I go every year to 'win' because I think it's hilarious. I can show you a photo on my phone, if you want."

"No, that's ok. You're on your way to an interview? What for?"

"I'm an anesthesiologist."

"Oh man, what's starting on that if you don't mind my asking?"

"What do you mean, like, starting pay?"


"Iunno, probably a quarter million or something."

"Wow, that's a lot of money!"

"I guess, I mean, not really. How much do those tech guys make in California? Plus, I'm in tons of debt."

"I guess, it's just a matter of perspective."



One of the charms of my life has been how new people react to my multifaceted nature. I like to believe there is a moment when they realize they are encountering someone completely unique. Whether it's because of my ultramarathon running, proclivity for costumes, street performance, physician-hood, some combination of the above or the personality of nonchalance that accompanies each aspect of my life, something about Adnan will stand out with novelty which hopefully inspires growth. Not everything is as it seems on the surface.


In this case, we had already established that "it was just a matter of perspective". Unfortunately, the TSA agents were unable to make the last step on taking that idea and applying it to life more broadly. So, one continued.


"What's that on your shirt?"

"Hm? These are blotches from a party I was at." (I was wearing a white undershirt with multiple pink colored sprays on it from a graffiti party I had gone to months ago."

"I thought they might be stains from the barbecue you're coming from."

"Huh?" I was legitimately confused.

"Because you were licking your fingers."


Despite the protracted conversation of meaningless drivel from my life, I was still quite numb to external stimuli due to my internal strife. Even still, these guys had managed to hit a sore spot. I was flabbergasted. I had been curious why I was selected for screening this time. Suddenly, it was clear: it was because I was biting my nails nervously which had seemed suspicious to them.


"I have a nail biting problem which is worsened because I just lost my wallet," I began to explain defensively before quickly realizing this line of conversation would be beyond their comprehension. I quit and receded into my numb rage. Nail biting was a bad habit of mine which I had failed to give up due to its chronic reemergence in times of stress. I was already embarassed about it. Suddenly, it was being used as justification to subject me to additional obstacles in a time already mired in insult. It was humiliating and enraging. Eventually, I boarded my plane still sour from the encounter.


In a commencement address entitled "This is Water," David Foster Wallace delved into various perceptions that each of us could utilize to introduce wonder into any mundane part of life. Through awareness, he proposed, we could remove ourselves from the egocentric bubbles in which many of us so often exist. The proverbial "I" am the victim of the circumstances around me and the center of my own world. We can exist as the victims of our perceived environment, or we could control our perceptions realize that there might be more to the world around us.


That skinny brown kid is biting his nails suspiciously. Maybe he is nervous because he's trying to smuggle something onto a plane. Or maybe he is nervous because he just lost his wallet hours before traveling for an interview while running a race painted blue and now doesn't know how he'll get around while traveling because he doesn't have his driver's license anymore.


"Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you wanna consider... The only thing that's capital-T true is that you get to decide how you see it... That is true freedom."

-David Foster Wallace

There is More - 11/16/15

I walked to the bus stop donning my white coat and scrubs. As I hopped aboard, I was immediately put off. The bus was too crowded to walk around comfortably while carrying my cumbersome boombox and sign. A worn-looking man boarded the bus at the next stop. He was one of those intrusive, unwelcome characters that talks loudly and addresses anyone around him -- freshly shaven with a piece of tissue paper covering a cut on his face. I largely ignored him and continued to gaze off into the distance while trying to keep my baggage out of the way. He took notice of me and engaged, "Hey. What does your sign say?" It said a lot more than I cared to explain to this man, so I just opened the sign for him to read. He read half-aloud and methodically like a 5th grader. After the first few sentences, he tired himself out and decided to editorialize instead, "Too many words! All you need is 3 words: Help. Me. Get... 4 words! Help. Me. Get. Drunk." Un-amused, I thought, At least he can count. I put my headphones back in.

I reached Downtown Crossing and began to dance. After about 30 minutes or so, a rugged looking guy watched the show for a bit. He then walked up and shook my hand, "It's great what you're doing; thanks for doing this. It helps take the stigma away from street performing. I'm a recovering addict."

Apparently, there was a correlation between street performance and substance abuse that I was not privy to. Without the grandiosity of challenging stigmata, I wanted to change the misconception that a certain type of person should follow a certain template. I wanted to show people that categorization of individuals based on singular superficial traits was a disservice to both parties. DoctorBeDancing brought together two very different worlds in a way that hopefully made the audience stop and think about what complexities might be overlooked in the people they saw before them. If a busker could be a doctor, then maybe not all buskers were bohemian artists or homeless. If a doctor could be a dancer, then maybe not all doctors were uni-dimensional automatons. Maybe there was more to the world than one's common misconceptions could do justice. Maybe there was more.

"Thousands." - the #DoctorBeDancing Report Card (11/2/15)

"So, what's your goal? A couple hundred dollars?"

"Uh no, like thousands. Several thousands."

This was my conversation with a friend at a party the night of May 2, 2015. It was the night before my first busk.

I didn't set a hard goal right away since I wasn't sure what would be realistic yet adequately challenging. By the time I had thrown up a crowdfunding website several weeks later, I decided to say $10,000 by the end of October -- the end of October would be 6 months into the project and would include the Monster Ball Halloween party which would be a fundraiser under the umbrella of DoctorBeDancing -- the idea was about $5,000 on the street and about $5,000 through the fundraisers. I intentionally diversified to maximize chances of success while maintaining flexible goals. I could essentially scale up or down the difficulty as needed to maintain motivation.

Today is November 2, 2015 which means we are at the 6-month evaluation mark for DoctorBeDancing.


I've spent some time to do a rough breakdown of the numbers:

$9,063 in busking donations (1-day record: $547)

$4,955 raised at Monster Ball 2015

$1,270 raised at Undress to Impress

~$1,000 from b.good on our joint engagement

$1,000 from anonymous donor on behalf of Dr. Colleen Keyes (largest single donation)

~$700 in online donations via website

____________________________________________ (drumroll...)

~$18,000 grand total


I'd like to put this into context. As a resident physician, I make just under $3,200/month while DoctorBeDancing has raised $3,000/month over the past 6 months. This means that I have been able to donate an amount that represents over 90% of my post-tax income.



Since its initiation, DoctorBeDancing has appeared on:

Fox 25 (local affiliate)

Boston Magazine 

CBS (local affiliate) - picked up nationally and virally by NowThis News (2.4 million views on FB)

People (online magazine) - embedded CBS story (over 6k shares)

Huffington Post (national online magazine)

DailyMail (largest online English language magazine)

NBC Nightly News (nationally syndicated with 8.2 million viewers nightly)

Boston Courant (local Boston newspaper)

ABC Chronicle (local affiliate)

The Dr. Oz Show (nationally syndicated with ~2 million viewers daily)

PBS Newshour (nationally syndicated - picked up from WGBH local PBS affiliate)

Context: Not many physicians garner national media attention, and when they do, it's often for something negative. As a resident, I was able to help restore faith in the medical profession through the national media acclaim that DoctorBeDancing received. Objectively and conservatively, I reached tens of millions of people. I received messages of gratitude and inspiration from as far away as Japan, the Philippines and Cambodia.


One day, I bought a boombox and a marker because I wanted to be a street performer. Six months later, I was one of the most famous street performers in the world because I did it with a purpose that spoke to millions -- a testament to the power of an idea.


Thank you to everyone for your continued support. The best is yet to come.

Vinh's Diesel - 10/26/15

I had been following Vinh's work via Facebook for couple of months. He contacted me briefly via an email through my website after the Boston magazine article very early on with the idea to start his own busking project as a medical student. "I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I want to be Student Doctorbedancing." He was studying at Howard in Washington DC. His vision was much more communal than mine in some ways. From the outset, he sounded more like he'd wanted to get other students at his school involved. I offered him some advice and gave him my blessing. I was thrilled that I could inspire someone into such a concrete action, but I ultimately didn't have much hope for his rendition of the project for several reasons.

Initially, I didn't even think he would actually execute on the idea. He had no need to. For me, it was personal. Years had passed, and I had continued to get into mild troubles along my career trajectory. As I spoke to my friend Aki about this, we jointly convinced me that I was exceptionally talented (it wouldn't take much to convince me of such flattering ideas) but fighting in the wrong arena, like Michael Jordan playing baseball. I prescribed to this hypothesis, but had never really tested it. Perhaps the only reason I believed it was because I wanted to believe it. It offered me an excuse for my purported shortcomings at my workplace. By starting DoctorBeDancing, however, I was testing the hypothesis. I was well aware of this, and it was terrifying. I had deposited everything that made Adnan himself into a single entity and offered it to the world. DoctorBeDancing was a symbol combining everything that I was supposed to be good at. His endurance and spirit drew from my ultra-running. His exaggerated motif of a physician drew from my costuming capabilities. His dancing was an extension of my own greatest power to grab attention, communicate with people and influence my surroundings. He even used the fact that I was a doctor as a red herring style exclamation point (Although I was a doctor, there was no reason that the most common question asked should be "Are you really a doctor??" -- it was frankly irrelevant to the fact that I was pouring sweat into the concrete to raise money for charity while making people smile and dance. Anyone who would do this should be applauded, not just a doctor.). DoctorBeDancing was all that was best in me. If he failed, it would mean that my greatest strengths weren't good enough. It would mean that my excuses for regularly facing difficulty at my job were baseless. If DoctorBeDancing failed, it was going to alter my perceptions of myself, and it was going to hurt.

Furthermore, the project had been taxing on me physically, mentality and emotionally. I had come from a background of ultra-endurance athletics and endured the purported gruel of residency unscathed, but I felt exhausted day after day from DoctorBeDancing. The only reason I could continue was because I was striving for something big -- something extraordinary. I wasn't even 100% sure what that was at the time, but DoctorBeDancing was my attempt to achieve it. DoctorBeDancing was my child, so I had to nurture it until it could stand on its own. Vinh, or any other person, wouldn't feel this drive -- this survival instinct pressing them through the difficulties. He probably didn't feel the need for redemption through his dancing, and he probably wouldn't feel the pressure for success when he faced the inevitable hardships of street performance. Would he be willing to go out even when it hurt? Would he be willing to give up days off to perform? Would he be able to stand up to the police or aggressive homeless people if they molested him? I doubted it.

Vinh also mentioned "[wanting] to help mobilize [his] very multi-talented classmates to exhibit their creative passion on the streets". I wasn't entirely certain what he meant by this, but I imagined it meant he planned to get a series of co-dancers from his medical school cohort. Personally, I felt that relying on other people was a folly. I'm sure that part of it stemmed from my own protracted battle with omnipresent feelings of isolation. But mostly, it was a logistical and motivational problem. Busking alone represented intrinsic motivation on the part of the individual. Relying on a group transformed it from the sacrifice of an individual to a social activity. If the motivation was derived from the social aspects, the idea risked dying in the absence of social support. For example, if a person only runs with a running club, then that person is more likely to stop running in their absence. The person may enjoy the club more than they enjoy running -- it presents a confounding variable which risks drop-out. Another logistical reason was that the fewer people who danced, the more attention and donations that were collected. I had noticed this quite early in my busking career and had chalked it up the idea that one person dancing was a performance while many people dancing was just a dance party. People will stop and watch a performance and pay, but they would rarely stop and watch a dance party. Early on, attention (read: memorable moments) and donations were the one of the only motivating factors which would come into play. If they were cut down by the diluting effect of having too many other people, then the idea risked collapsing on itself before it could gain a foothold. Beyond the rational reasons, my skepticism was also fueled by a certain ideological paradox. The idea that DoctorBeDancing tried to spread expression of individuality. In my mind, a group of people expressing their identical individuality jointly wasn't an expression of individuality -- it was mob mentality. This was the same reason I was reluctant to participate in flash mobs when invited on multiple occasions (plus, I was really bad at choreographed dance routines -- it didn't feel natural). I believed that any lasting endeavor would be the result of a personal war we waged and regularly involving other people was contrary to this thesis.

I didn't express any of these notions because as I mentioned, I didn't expect Vinh to act on the idea anyways. So, instead I told him, "The biggest recommendation I would make is to just get out there and do it. It's so incredibly rewarding to see so many people smile. The details will work themselves out as you go!" And with that, all the other thoughts evaporated.

He e-mailed me 24 hours later telling me he ordered a boombox. I was impressed. We became Facebook friends. Then I didn't hear from him again for a while. I hardly took notice; I was very busy anyways. I shot the CBS story that Monday which went viral and caused chain reaction of media requests that would go on to consume my energy for the next several weeks. As my project grew, I was forced to use more social media than usual. On my news feed, I noticed a few pictures and short clips that Vinh had posted. I got an e-mail a few days later:

Hey Doc!

I got out and danced for about half an hour. It was an extremely hot day (and I wish I was in your peak cardio condition), but I was able to raise a few dollars. I plan on doing this weekly and my classmates are getting involved too.

Thank you for the inspiration,


Good for him, I thought. He had already exceeded my expectations. Months passed, and I would continue to see Vinh's videos and pictures pop up on my Facebook feed. He had a small posse of dancers, and it seemed to be going well. I got excited when I saw an update because this was the most tangible example of what DoctorBeDancing could spawn independent of my own work -- a consequence of the project which could outlast me.

At the outset, I had settled upon the end of October as my deadline for DoctorBeDancing. This was in the interest of sustainability: $10,000 by the end of October. With this concrete goal, it would be easier to make the unquestioning sacrifices I would have to make. After this, I would evaluate the progress of what I had accomplished and where to go from there -- like beta testing. Towards the end of the 'beta' phase of DoctorBeDancing, Vinh messaged me:


hey man! i got nominated by my peers for a community service award

I just wanted to thank you for giving me the idea and for the advice. This is really all thanks to you.

this project has changed my life


Dude, that's great to hear! Hell, I've never even gotten any accolades during my medical training.


I think you're setting a great example for other people.

The key to getting any idea going is to have other people start to act on it. Until then, you're just an eccentric weirdo.

So, your work is one of the best things to come out of my work.


i'm honored

what's crazy for me

is that when I started I couldn't get any of my classmates to come out

and i only raised $5 on my first attempt alone

haha but then I learned how to come out of my shell so to speak, and it really just grew from there

so really, i thank you for giving me this experience

i feel like a different person


brb, gotta intubate someone

It was true. Despite being catapulted to international spotlight and demolishing my financial goals with DoctorBeDancing, I had never received any sort of official commendation for my work. It wasn't something I had even considered. Frankly, I had given up on winning praise from within my profession -- that didn't happen for people like me. It was also true that his project was one of the best things to come out of DoctorBeDancing. (And it was also true that I had to go intubate somebody emergently in one of the ICU's).

His nomination made me happy, and it was enough that I could inspire such an uplifting change in another person who I had never even met. I didn't know much about Vinh or what kept him going when most would consider raising $5 in the sweltering July heat a disheartening failure. Clearly, I had underestimated him. I found his GoFundMe page:

How did I get into this project?

Before entering medical school, I loved to dance. I was an amateur choreographer and really enjoyed expressing myself through music and performance. I also served a service year with AmeriCorps' Community HealthCorps program after college and fell in love with community engagement during that time.

While ecstatic to be learning medicine and excelling in med school, I found a part of myself feeling unfulfilled during my first year. I yearned to make a bigger difference in my community.

"I found part of myself feeling unfulfilled." The words could have been taken directly from my mind. With that I realized what fueled this stranger who I had never met. The feeling of loss of humanity that often accompanied medical training -- we faced the same battle. The same flame that burned within me was alight in Vinh. I had been selling him short because I had neglected to see it until this moment. He had his own battle to face and created an analogous movement with his own flavor. This was exactly the point of my work -- to inspire the world to make a positive impact in their own way. By involving more people, he was able to make the movement even more accessible and arguably better in some ways for it. His rendition added his own strengths where mine fell short, and I could potentially learn from it.

A brand new value of DoctorBeDancing was revealed. That the tinder of passion and goodness was harbored within people simply waiting to be set ablaze by a silly idea like dancing on the streets for charity; and a medical student that I had never met who lived hundreds of miles away proved it to me.


You Don't Know - 10/8/15

Hi Anthony,

I don't know you, so this isn't actually addressed to you. Because to me, you are not a person. I have never met you. I have only a single sentence upon which to base this. You are more than a person to me. You are an idea. You wrote something which hurt me. Words tore like daggers into my being. You represent the negativity and judgment individuals face every day. Today, you said:

"You sound like a self centered douche bag."

I am not DoctorBeDancing.

I am Adnan.

I am a person.

I have feelings.

I have a mind.

I have a body.


To create a symbol of positivity that was stronger than my flesh, I poured my sweat into the concrete. While working at the hospital, I also worked anywhere from 10-30 hours a week to donate something unique to humanity.

You don't know how I sacrificed my entire summer because I could think of nothing except DoctorBeDancing.

You don't know how I gave up every day off I had because I danced it away.

And you don't know that after I danced, I was too tired to do anything else afterwards.

You don't know the courage it took for me, a skinny Indian kid, to stand up to the people who threatened me on the street.

You don't know how my house was robbed and the part that hurt me the most was my boombox being taken.

You don't know the toll DoctorBeDancing took on my social life or my relationships.

You don't know how I limped away from my dancing sets because my legs throbbed.

You don't know how many times I worked 20 hours overnight until 7 or 8 in the morning and still danced the next day.

And you don't know how much it took for me to smile when I danced after working overnight because my first patient died the day before.

You don't know how I almost stopped enjoying dancing because some days it felt like work.

You don't know how hard it was to dance in 90 degree weather and 100% humidity for the third straight day and still hate myself when I got home because I felt like I still hadn't done enough.

You don't know how I stopped running because my knees couldn't handle the the pain from both dancing and running. 

You don't know how much running means to me, and so you don't know what the previous sentence even signifies.

Because: You. Don't. Know. Me.


You don't know me.

You don't know how I could be brought to tears by my work.

You don't know how a simple smile could power me through another dance. 

You don't know how some days, everything I gave up was all worth it because of a simple note that somebody wrote saying thank you.

You don't know know how much words mean.

And you don't know how much yours discouraged me.

So, let my actions speak louder than my words.

Then judge me. 


DoctorBeDancing is about tolerance of diverse ideas because we are all individuals.

I am a person. 

You are a bully.

And you don't know.





The Guns in My Face - 10/7/15

The weight of my boombox seemed heavier than usual. I was a bit down. I decided to do what I do to raise my mood. I decided to dance. I walked to my usual place in Downtown Crossing since it was on the way to the hospital. There was a police officer on a motorbike sitting exactly where I usually set my sign. I didn't care to attract his attention. Not because I felt I was doing something illegal, but because I wasn't in the mood to have to fend off random bullies today. So, I set up down the street a little way to avoid any altercations. Despite my added effort, it didn't work out. First a homeless man tried appended to me. He put a cup down next to my bag and started doing a low quality dance. I ignored him. People continued to donate into my bag and not into his cup -- as they should given that he was just in my way. After a bit, he seemed upset and reached towards my bag, at which point I stopped him and told him to "get out of here. Leave, now." There was an audience who jumped in to fend off the homeless man as well. He left. The cop who had occupied my spot earlier walked by on patrol. He said, "I don't mind you doing that, but you can't be in the way. You've got to move to the side." He walked away with those words. I wasn't really in the way, and my act is highly mobile, so I can move it very quickly in case of emergency. His rules weren't really applicable to me, so I continued. On his stroll back towards his motorcycle, he stopped again, "I told you before, you need to move back. Are you going to listen?" I replied, "Ooookay, but if I'm not visible, I don't get donations. You're breaking my balls, man. You're breaking my balls." I moved my stuff back a ways and started dancing. With the move back, my efficacy was dramatically decreased. I couldn't raise money if I wasn't garnering attention and the donation bag wasn't easily accessible by being "in the way". I moved my boombox and bag again. I was about 3-4 feet from the curb in the middle of the "way". This was a pedestrian only street about 30 feet across, my being able to block the way with my dancing was an impossibility. So, the cop returned again on his motorbike. This time he was more disgruntled.

"All right, time to pack it up," he said. His eyes stared aggressively into mine.

I twitched. I was already upset. This was not the time to press into me. "Why?"

"Pack it up. I told you to move. I was nice about it. You didn't move. So, it's time to pack it up."

I offered him what I could, "But I'm raising money for charity. Did you read the sign?"
"It doesn't matter."

It doesn't matter he said. The crowd that gathered grew and moved in closer. My opponent here, although he was formerly quite polite, had launched into a world that he didn't understand. OF COURSE IT MATTERS. The results and the means all matter. Blindly throwing around authority is not your job. Every situation should be treated as an individual situation. I had given him a chance. I rose my voice.

"Ok, what laws are you shutting me down for? You told me to go away. Based on what laws. This is public property."

He reached for his breast pocket. I thought he was about to pull out his citation pad. Instead, he reached for the radio on his shoulder, "I'm about to find out."

"So, you don't know. You're threatening me without any reason."

A woman in the crowd jeered, "He obviously doesn't have Facebook."

My voice rose further. I grabbed my phone and handed it to one of the people standing by, "Here, can you take a video of this for me please." If I received a citation, the world would know why.

Another audience member joined the conversation, "You know he's famous, right? He's all over Facebook."

This wasn't about being famous. It was about the idea that blind exercise of power is dangerous, and that somebody had to stand against it to set an example. DoctorBeDancing happened to be in an appropriate place to do that. He was able to send that message.

The policeman was obviously nervous. He wasn't prepared for what he had stepped into.

"Ok, what's your badge number?" I looked over at his badge. "It's badge #1927," I declared louder yet for the camera record. "I'm being told to shut down on public property for breaking no laws. Do you know what laws you're threatening me with?" I reinforced. 

The officer continued to talk into his radio and cell phone. Another officer arrived to help diffuse the situation.
Another random passerby shouts out, "Hey! I saw you on NBC!"

I wave to him and smile, "Hi! Thanks!"

I address the police again, "I can tell you what the laws are. I have been through this before. You're going to threaten me with: soliciting money without a permit. No permits are required for street performance in the City of Boston. And the other one is noise. The noise laws in Boston are 'clearly audible from 100 feet away'. I'm not breaking that law either."

Two more police vehicles pull into this small pedestrian only alley way. Yes, they called for back-up on me. The officer walks away to go talk to his superior seated in the car. Then, I am beckoned over. I can tell what has occurred. The higher ranking officer is much more charismatic. Back-up was called not to escalate, but to diffuse the situation. I explain my side, and am heard. The confrontation has left adrenaline pumping through my veins. Changing stances from aggressive to cordial. I reiterate multiple times, "There's no hard feelings. I don't mean to be a pain. But I pour my sweat into this, and it's stressful -- just like your job. Tempers will boil over. But ultimately, I get upset when someone tries to push me away without reason when I'm just trying to help the community."

I walk back to my crowd of supporters and thank them for their help. We talk with one of the other officers who explains that their job is stressful and how they could have just "had 2 guns pointed in his face earlier today". To which I reply, "Well, I mean, you guys each have guns too, right? So I had at least 3 guns in my face 5 minutes ago!"

Ultimately, what separates a hero from a criminal is socio-centricity, the idea that what you're doing benefits someone other than yourself. The reason I chose to take a stand is because a blind exercise of power is dangerous. In no way did taking a stand help me, but we hear so many stories in the news about how authorities target individuals without reason. The question we should all ask ourselves is: do I back down? Do I allow this behavior to continue, or do I stand up for what I believe in and represent the people who can't represent themselves? I know what my duty is.


I Understand - 7/9/15

To the artist. In your unending quest for self-expression, you present your innards to the world with the hope that you will find ablution in others' catharsis for your work. Your insecurities put on the line and displayed before the world. Every time, the fear that nobody will understand your creation and by proxy that nobody will understand you. Yet, this is your journey. And so it is a risk that you will take a thousand times again.

To the athlete. Endlessly, sweat pours from your body. Endlessly, tears pour from your soul. You question whether or not you'll be good enough. The answer? No. Because every day, you face an inevitably insurmountable task -- you must be better than your former self. The body aches in new ways every day, but still you push on. Because your body is a temple, and everyday, you will pray for actualization. 

To the parent. Your life no longer belongs to you. Your thoughts no longer under your command. You placed an appendage into the world, and now it must thrive. It must be bigger, stronger, better than you. Its failures are your own, and its successes bring you greater joys than you could achieve without. Your life seemingly sacrificed on the altar of legacy, but the nourishment of kinship feeds both ways. Although, you occasionally forget this, you will remember again.

To the innovator. The exhaustion of what already is encumbers your being. Yet the thoughts of what could be lift you nearly to flight. You aren't happy with what is because you know there is more. To build upon your predecessors is your duty. To transform. To enhance. Because you believe betterment is within you awaiting release. To you, it is not your ambition, it is your obligation.

To the artist, to the athlete, to the parent, to the innovator: I understand.


How #DoctorBeDancing Became A Superhero - 8/21/15

My name is Adnan Khera, and I recently became a superhero by following this template:

1. Identify a superpower

Over the past several years, I have had an enormous affinity for dancing. When I danced, I became a different person. I transcended myself, and everyone around me could see it. I would create unique situations and could energize the people around me. This electricity truly was a superpower. I was asked, "Why can't you always be that person you are when you're dancing?" I replied, "Because I'm just a person." Perhaps, this was not the case when I danced.

2. Choose ideals to represent

What was important to me? Selflessness, individuality, universality and inspiration. These were the values I wished to represent with my superhero. Unlike his fictional counterparts, he would have to derive his powers from the people he inspired rather than some farfetched sci-fi premise. A superhero, yes. But only because he would ultimately instill hope in mankind. What else is there to a superhero really?

3. Create a symbol

I had yet another power in my arsenal. This was my ability to costume. My strength was not in the craftsmanship of my apparel, but the combination of context, audacity and design. I shrugged off self-consciousness to create a barrage of handcrafted costumes for which I spent little money but sacrificed much vanity. I had shaved my head, painted my body and been a noticeable figure in places where different was the norm. To become a superhero, I created yet another costume: I dressed as a doctor. An outfit associated with relative wealth and prestige juxtaposed with street performance and Sharpie-emblazoned cardboard signs. A powerful image by all measures.

4. Become that symbol

"People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as [myself]. As a man, I'm flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol... as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting." 

-Batman Begins

I am Adnan. I am a person -- with all the frailty of my sinew. To inspire, I had to become more. I had to become a purified image of hope. I became a symbol in which people could believe, a symbol which would outlast me. 

5. Pick a name

Every superhero needs a name. A name that is clear, concise and unique. While I focused on the symbol, my name had already been assigned to me. One of my ER patients from years ago had recognized me in Baltimore as the guy who danced down the street on my way to work. She exclaimed "Oh, I know you! You that doctor be jammin'!" On my first day out, I was a nameless enitity with only a blank white coat and a hashtag describing my actions -- #DoctorBeDancing. Soon, I would evolve into my title as the symbol grew larger than the man.

6. Sacrifice

Becoming #DoctorBeDancing was not easy. I was taxed enormously. My body hurt. The Doctor could dance because it was Adnan's body that would later be sore. My mental energy was spent focusing on strengthening my symbol and maintaining univeral appeal. I could hardly think of anything else. I had cut back on running and social dancing to allow room for the superhero to manifest itself in my life. Sacrifices were certainly made, but the rewards were without compare. The Doctor empowered the people, but the people invigorated Adnan, and so I could press on through the doubts.

7. Let your actions speak

As a symbol, I could lead by example. The man became blurred by the image. I didn't need to speak to communicate, because my actions spoke louder than my words would. In fact, the words I said hardly mattered at all. The image alone carried the project. At times, this bothered me because the interpretation of the living portrait I had painted was oversimplified. I had to remind myself that art was a projection of the observer's imagination. As long as the superhero inspired, the mission was accomplished.

8. Face adversity

Not everyone understood my purpose. On occasion, I faced off against those that would seek to undermine my goal. I faced difficulty in the form of burglars, other buskers, the occasional passerby and even police. I bent to their wills at first, but I knew that I represented a force greater than myself. With time, I learned to defend myself. The costume was a suit of armor reinforced by the people's will. I was safe even under fire which gave me the courage to strike back when necessary.

9. Demonstrate influence

The final step in becoming a superhero was to have every aspect that represents the hero be synonymous with the values I represented. When the people saw my visage, see the motif of my costume, see my hashtag or hear the name, I wanted them to think back to the values I had set forth: selflessness, individuality, universality and inspiration. Eventually, the people began to understand the values even in the absence of a physical manifestation simply because they knew that it's always out there -- and that those ideals are within themselves too. With that, I became more than human. I was an idea. A superhero.


Not Alone, Never Alone (Day 24) - 8/10/15 #DoctorBeDancing

I danced on Newbury on Saturday in the early afternoon. After about 20 minutes a police car drove up. I glanced over at him as I always do when I see a police officer to see how he would respond to me. He waved his hand in a circular motion in the air. I wasn't sure what that meant, so I gave him a twirl and continued. Apparently, he didn't mean "I want you to twirl", he meant "wrap it up". He exited his vehicle and entered my arena.

"You're going to have to move."


"You're blocking the sidewalk. You can't dance here. You want to dance? Go dance in the park."

"I am already set up here, and I'm pretty sure I'm allowed to be here."

"You want me to write you a citation?"

"A citation for what? What would you be citing me for?"

"You're soliciting money. Do you have a permit for that? And you have amplified sound."

I was already armed for this encounter, but first I wanted to give him a chance.

"I'm raising money for charity."

"It doesn't matter."

So I struck.

"Ok, do you know your laws? Tell me what the rules are. You don't know. First of all, street performers don't need permits in Boston. Furthermore, the laws permit sound up to 70 decibels. Do you want me to show you? I have them."

"Yeah, show me."

And so, I pulled out my phone and brought up my own website in front of him and cited him the law. He was ill-prepared for this battle he had entered. I feel like he hadn't read the sign and had engaged me prematurely, but was too stubborn to stand down. So, we continued our delicate tango.

"Well, you're blocking the public sidewalk which is a civil citation. See that line?" He pointed at a crack between the broad concrete slabs about 3 feet from where I was standing. "That's private property, everything up until there is public, and you can't stand here."

"So, I can move right there?"

"Sure, you can try until [the Nike store] gets annoyed with your noise and calls me to boot you."

My eyebrow shot to the sky. Now, he was just being obnoxious. One of the employees at the Nike store had popped outside minutes ago to tell me I was doing great work. I became irate and knew how this was to end. It was time to finish him.

"You know you serve me, right? You serve all of us. What's your badge number?" I snapped a photo of Officer 1209's badge.

"Well, let me snap a photo of your stuff blocking the sidewalk!"

"Go for it. And you can hashtag it too. And I'll move my stuff 3 feet over. Don't forget who you serve. You serve all of us."

"And I'm going to go into the Nike store and let them know that they can call me to get rid of you."


He entered the store as I moved my stuff over a few feet. While this was all going on, a young Asian guy had overheard and joined my fight to stand against this tyrannical ignorance. I was not alone. Officer 1209 exited the store, and we continued to duel.

"Ok, I let them know. I'll be back in a few minutes to tell you to move."

"You serve us. Do you know what the Boston police mission statement is?"

Tenzin, my ally, jeered "I pay my taxes! You serve us!" as he held my sign high and proudly.

Officer 1209 turned to walk away.

"Do you know your mission statement? Tell me what it is! Come on!"

"See you later, doctor," he yelled from the safety of his car as if I wasn't a doctor. Suddenly, he was like the pseudo-polite, uniformed version of the homeless man asking me for money to buy cigarettes then telling me "You're not a fucking doctor".

I laughed mockingly and yelled back "See you later, police officer."

He left and did not return.

As I reestablished my composure, I thanked Tenzin for his support and looked around for where I could actually set up without going anywhere. As I looked around, I saw the girl in the Nike store waving to me and indicating to the ground telling me to set up in front of the store. And so I did. And more people stopped than ever before. The battle invigorated me in a strange way. I could see the public support on my side in real time. I was not alone. I was never alone as #DoctorBeDancing.


99 Problems but a Busk Ain't One - 7/25/15

This is Danny, the guitarist busker. I walked down Boylston to my usual spot and he was set up in it. "Dammit," I thought as he sat there not even playing. I kept walking, crossed the street and set up at least 100 feet away. He still had not played a note. I began to dance and about 5 minutes and maybe $15 in, he interrupted me.

Danny: "Hey, I'm going to need you to move. I've been set up right there for like an hour already. And I can hear you from over there. I'm asking you nicely, if you don't listen, we're gonna have a problem."

I was already flabbergasted. This wife-beater donning, greasy haired jackass accosted me out of the blue to threaten me? I had faced several difficulties since beginning my endeavors from outsiders but this was my first encounter from another performer. And it was already unpleasant. Every time I danced, I had to arrive on a higher plane of existence. I was in flow, driven by the energy of the music and the crowd. When someone interrupted to try and stop me, I would be brought back down to the world of normalcy. Worse yet, Danny had threatened me without even introducing himself. This isn't the Internet, Danny. You can't just threaten someone emptily and get away with it. Obviously, I was angry, but I held back.

"Why don't you calm down. What's your name?"


We shook hands, "I'm Adnan, nice to meet you. I don't like you coming over here and being rude. You weren't playing when I came over here and set up."

"I have been there for over an hour. You didn't see all my stuff?"

"If you're not playing, I don't know what you're doing. Maybe you're packing up to leave. How am I supposed to know? You think I want your music interfering with me? I don't want clashing sounds. I'll move, but don't be rude to me. And don't threaten me."

I wasn't in the habit of standing up for myself out on the streets. Last time this had occurred with the Downtown Crossing ambassadors, an audience member had stood up for me and scolded them, demanding that I continue. This prior instance meant had meant a lot to me because it showed me what my audience thought of me -- that people were willing to stand up for a good cause, to represent the individual pursuing passion for a higher purpose than self. Such a revelation gave me the courage to stand up for myself as well. Because I wasn't standing up for myself if I asked Danny to stand down. Adnan was standing up for DoctorBeDancing. When you bring me down from my higher plane of existence by interrupting my performance, you transform me back from DBD into Adnan -- the onlooker who admires DBD and his purpose just as much as everyone else. But Adnan is a person, and he feels the fury that DBD can shrug off.

I walked a short way up the street to set up again. But my mind was brimming with aggression. I could have just kept my performance going and ignored him. That would make him angry. But I was more creative than that. I would rather systematically dismantle my assailant. I could set up my sign directly in front of him and dance to his own music. There wouldn't be much that he could do. He would be furious, and I would be laughing because he had assaulted my ideals. The thought frightened me. That I would enjoy it so much.

While I could mentally break my aggressor, this would be selfish. The only person who might benefit would be Adnan. And every minute I spent doing so would be money directly out of charitable funds. This wasn't right. So, I would take the higher road for the greater good that DBD represented. 

I set up a little bit down the road and began to dance again. The anger evaporated in the heat of the act as I again transformed into DBD. I smiled, and the world smiled back.



90 Degrees and Humid - 7/20/15

It was hot. I was sweating before I started. My legs were aching from the day before already. I busked anyways.

I picked a suboptimal location because it seemed to be getting adequate traffic, but more importantly because I was tired from hauling my boombox around in the brutal weather and this place was close to my car and shady enough. I knew it was suboptimal before I began, but I let my weakness dictate my course of action.

The day went ok, but I was so tired the entire time. Crowd participation was minimal, so no energy was gleaned from them either. I stayed maybe 60-90 minutes then went home drenched in my own exhaustion. When I got home, I knew already that I had underperformed, but I didn't realize by how much.

I counted $89. I felt... sad. I was disappointed in myself. I stood up and looked in the mirror. Why was I so upset? I was doing something that commanded admiration. It made thousands of people smile every time I went out. I was doing something few others had the capacity to do. The physical exhaustion of dancing in the spotlight for hours would knock out most contenders. And here I stood, looking at myself like a failure.

Every day, I poured more and more of myself into the writing and dancing. I wanted to be more. I felt increasingly human with each passing day, and I could feel the emotions which came along with it. I had created something whose success was based entirely on my decisions. Each shortcoming was my own. My frailty would be reflected in my creation. And everyone would see it. When I didn't make enough money, it showed my weakness to the world. They could see that I was still a man. My symbol would weaken. The DoctorBeDancing would weaken. I chose a poor location because I was weak, because my frailty overcame my judgement.

Ironically, part of the project was to put the humanity and individuality back into medicine. And yet, with that humanity, I had neglected that the weakness of man would follow. Another day, another dance. Tomorrow, I will be better. The curse of the athlete -- always aching to be better than himself despite the inevitable climax. Citius, altius, fortius? Fallacious. But still, we try.