From the Chest X-Ray, He Saw a Romantic Future
Dr. Mary Oakley Strasser’s unhesitating response that she saw Seurat, not Picasso, in a medical X-ray won the heart of her fellow medical student, Balaji Pandian. The two had been at a lecture and she was put on the spot for a diagnosis. (The pointillist-like dots on the X-ray, shown in a PowerPoint presentation, indicated that the patient likely had tuberculosis.)
Her sheer enjoyment of a night out at a downscale bar later that same day, sometime in 2018, made him absolutely certain that he’d found his match.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this is incredible,’” said Mr. Pandian, 26, who is now in his final year at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, from which Dr. Strasser graduated in May. “Someone who can correlate chest X-ray readings with art, and can also enjoy a dive bar. I’ve found the one. There cannot be anyone else.”
Dr. Strasser, 32, had a reputation among the first-year medical students as a brilliant Princeton graduate and intrepid world traveler who had trekked through the Himalayas when she and Mr. Pandian first met. So when Mr. Pandian, who graduated from Harvard, found himself in a group of students at the library that included Dr. Strasser, studying for a regular weekly cardiology quiz in 2015, he seized the chance to strike up a conversation.
“We got to talking,” said Dr. Strasser, who is now in the internship year of a urology residency in the Weill Cornell Medical College program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. She had spent two years abroad through Princeton in Asia, first teaching in China and then designing a program for primary school children in Laos. She had also obtained a premedical post-baccalaureate degree from Goucher College, as she had been an English major as an undergraduate.
In the first few months of medical school, she had heard of Mr. Pandian, too. He was running as the technology rep for the student council (“I didn’t vote for him,” she said). So in their first conversation, as the two talked about their backgrounds and common interests and their goals, a mutual admiration took hold.
More regular studying together followed, and eventually, the two went out for a drink together, leaving behind a group of other medical students, with whom they had watched a student dance performance.
He was eager to impress her, and so they soon had a second date.
“He came to my apartment and cooked a chicken piccata, and that was basically the last time he cooked for me,” Dr. Strasser said. “He started running in the morning with me and my roommate, and which he hasn’t done since. Also a trick.”
They shared a first kiss the night he cooked that dinner.
“After that date, I actually told him that I thought we would get married, which was kind of a crazy thing to say,” she said. “I just knew.”
On Oct. 19, at a house on North Lake in Gregory, Mich., that was rented for the occasion, the couple was married. Dr. Steven Gay, the dean of admissions at Michigan’s medical school and a mentor to both, officiated, having become a Universal Life minister. Eleven people, including the couple, were at the ceremony. The couple had originally intended to be married on April 11, but the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic upended their plans.
Mr. Pandian said that shortly after that Picasso-Seurat moment, they had to decide if they were each going to pursue their extra-medical interests while staying together and on track to finish their medical training.
The answer was a definitive yes, though their interests took them off the same timeline and separated them for a year, while she started business school and he was working at a medical imaging start-up in Santa Clara, Calif., for which he is now the director of artificial intelligence.
“We realized at that point that our adventures, at that moment and forever, would be intertwined,” Mr. Pandian said.
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