Pediatrics – ack! That was a unit I always wanted to avoid, it was a visceral reaction, like a terrible memory you want to put away and not see again. But, several months volunteering in pediatrics just brought back such memories, though some of them were constructive:
Two meters. I spent most of my adolescent life, on steroids, and tethered to a short drug delivering polyvinyl cord. At the time, medicine came in glass vial aliquots. To open the medicine, you’d snap the glass along a red perforated line — if you snapped in the right spot you’d deliver medicine — if you snapped in the wrong spot you’d deliver medicine, and have several shards of glass embedded into your fingers. It was best to do it right, I learned this early in elementary school. Disease makes you appreciate life, after all I officially checked out in the ICU after a combination flu/asthma attack. What made the experience palatable was that my breathing mask made me feel like a fighter pilot, and Top Gun was still cool to me at the time.
Once all of my teeth were permanent, the glass vials switched to plastic and my thumbs had never been happier. From this room, I often wondered what the outside world was like — one where I wouldn’t be attached to a cord or dependent on a spray of a beta agonist to live. This is probably the reason why I sought to move to the east coast for medical school, to see the world. I saw kids play, and wondered what it would be like to run without limits, to talk and laugh without having to be reminded to “calm down” to not flare up the asthma. I would go to elementary school for a few months, then miss a few, and well I became the odd kid that never comes to school. Social workers and school administrators would occasionally investigate, only to be assailed by a mountain of hospital records and doctors’ notes. After a while, it became a gentleman’s agreement: I do my work from home and they left me alone because I tested in the top 5%.
In fact, I missed so much school in my junior year, a rumor spread around school my high school that I had spread that I had died. I found this out when I came to school, and heard all of the wild ways that I died — the consensus was a car accident. In case you’re curious, they were pretty off; I went in because as I gasped for air from an asthma attack I tore a hole in my lung; and well, collapsing lungs are typical things you want to avoid in life.
Later in lie, I was less of a slave to asthma because of therapeutics (long acting beta agonists) and eventually was able to “exercise” aerobically. It was a way to control my asthma and to reduce my dependency on my medicines (I can even leave home without medicine, that was a ambulance guarantee before!). Though, my lung capacity is pretty shot I’ve learned to work well with what I have. I suppose the irony is that, I never really imagined I’d live this long. I sort of figured I’d kick the bucket a decade ago, then I figured I wouldn’t make it past 20 something — and well i’m past that now. And now, I’m left with only one question: what does one do when they have a new lease on life?
Easy answer: go to medical school.
I left my pediatric unit each day, each day the memories dug at me. At first it was uncomfortable to remember the past, because of the stress associated with it I suppose. But, it was a great experience to have these memories and remind myself how it felt to be a habitual inpatient. I found myself connecting with patients instantly, I guess you never forget how it feels — and somehow, they understand that too.
As I reflect on the education and medicine that kept me alive all these years, I can’t but help but want to pay the favor forward — because fear of death makes you think about another big question: if my life is worth saving, then why is it worth saving at all?
I’m still working on this question.
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