A Broken Heart

2D Echocardiogram– $220.00

Hospital Consult– $110.00

Select Coronary Angiograph and Cardiac Cath Imaging– $10,000.00 (give or take)

………

The list, a fading hospital bill from over 15 years ago, goes on and on. I had never seen the bill until today, when my dad handed it to me while cleaning out some old files, but there are many things that I do remember.

I remember the snow, then the fever. I remember being taken to my family physician, barely able to stand on the scale. I remember being transferred to a big hospital. I remember the first night in the pediatric ICU, where they heaped icepacks that chilled me to the bone and refused to take them off, despite my complaints.

Then there was the cold stethoscope held by a different hand each time. There were the injections, the constant in and out of people, the worried face of my mother, the presents, the cold rolling ball of the echocardiogram probe, the sticky electrodes from EKGs. It was a daily routine of procedures, tests, consults, and of course, the sickness. I was four-years-old at the time, and even now, I still remember.

What I didn’t remember was one phrase I told my mom; I didn’t learn about it until probably a year ago. About five days in to my ten day ICU stay, I had said to my mom,”I don’t want to live anymore.” Weighty words for a four-year-old, and something that broke my mom’s heart.

But regardless of my young opinions, I did live. On day ten, the fever went down. I ate my first bit of solid food in over a week, a cereal with a frog on the front of the package (Honey Smacks—had to look this up while writing this). I also remember that I actually didn’t like the cereal, but it didn’t matter. I was too hungry to care.

On day eleven, I was discharged, returning back to a semblance of normal life…

Over the years, this patchy childhood memory was filled with new bits of information. I learned that I had Kawasaki’s Disease, a rare disease of unknown etiology, possibly fatal if left untreated (It also turned out to be a perfect textbook case, which made me quite an attraction among the medical students, residents, and fellows). And unfortunately, I didn’t come out unscathed; the ordeal left me with three coronary artery aneurysms, one of which has never healed.

Even to this day, I still have a “broken heart,” but the ordeal has only empowered me to live my life, achieve my dreams. I had wanted to become a doctor even before I became ill, but my experience didn’t scare me away; instead, it emboldened me.

I have no illusions about what I’m getting myself into. Medicine is an imperfect profession that strives for perfection. Its practitioners are held to a golden standard of idealism that is impossible to uphold. It seeks to cure, but often falls short. It seeks to heal, but memories and scars never fade away.

I know all of this. I’ve experienced it firsthand. But regardless, I still believe.

For if we don’t believe—in an idea, a dream, a goal—then what are we living for?

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Effortless

While sitting here on a Friday night,  I figured it would be a good time to write this short reflection:

Effortless. It’s such a simple word yet its use is restricted—for life is anything but effortless. But there is one thing that I could describe as being nearly effortless in my life, and though usually being able to perform something effortlessly is a good thing, I see it differently.

I’ve always been good at academics. Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a knack for picking things up—letters, words, number, patterns. And this ability only grew throughout school. I fought through the usual battery of exams, projects, and standardized tests and finally graduated with honors, college bound.

But it didn’t end there. Since I was four, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor (for reasons that deserve a post of its own). And so, I made it a point to find a university that would make that possible. After several supplemental applications and interviews, I finally found that school, a well-known public university which offered me not only a substantial scholarship but conditional acceptance to its medical school.

True, I worked hard to get to where I am now, but I also consider myself very lucky, too lucky, in fact. I have a spot in medical school saved for me upon graduation, but I became eligible through a standardized test—a test that I not only didn’t study for but barely “passed” the school’s internal benchmark. I’ve worked as a research student at a medical institution for the past three years. Yet, I got the position through a stroke of luck. This year I received a national grant,  a notoriously difficult and competitive process, through (yet another) stroke of luck and a mentor’s generosity. And so it may have seemed effortless how I reached this point in my life, but in all honesty, it was a combination of hard work, a little bit of talent, and a lot of good fortune.

Which brings me to another point. People don’t seem to understand when I try to downplay these achievements.  “You should be proud” is the most common phrase that is directed to me. I am proud, and I am happy with where I am with respect to my education and career.

But if someone, anyone asked me if I had a choice, would I give it up? I wouldn’t hesitate. The answer is yes. I would give up that seat in medical school. I would give up my scholarship. I would give up the luck I’ve had. I would give it all up.

Although academics has been effortless for me, other things in my life have been a struggle. There are a lot of things I wish I had and if given the choice, between those things and a seat, I would take the former.

Because in the end, happiness, completeness trumps effortless.

An Unshakable Feeling

As I walked back to my car after running an errand, I took a moment to take in my surroundings. Above me, a perfect half moon was slowly emerging, taking the place of a crimson retreating sun. The weather, the temperature, everything was beautiful, and one could say calming. My day had gone perfectly well, despite my being a little tired, but during that brief walk, an all too familiar feeling began to surface.

It’s really difficult to describe. Imagine that very common feeling of disappointment or heartache that makes your heart/soul feel kind of heavy. Now imagine that feeling being diluted to the point where it just reaches the threshold of being felt, a “light” heavy feeling that surfaces out of the blue. It’s not fear. It’s not depression or even sadness. It’s in a class of it’s own, a feeling as if something is missing from your life or that something isn’t in place.

Of course there’s nothing actually missing, at least at the conscious level. I really am happy with my life, complete with purpose, good friends, goals, and various activities, among other things. But this feeling, this unshakable feeling, which comes and goes whether or not I’m happy, sad, or anything in between, still lingers. It feels as if something, someone is missing..

Who knows, maybe I am missing a someone (some fated friend, significant other, acquaintance, or rival). Or maybe I’m missing a something (an experience, a new purpose (already have a current one), hobby, goal, etc).

Regardless of the cause, the fact of the matter is that even as I write this post, this feeling still lingers.

An Invisible Observer

The following describes a scene from my volunteering days at a local hospital. As I sat waiting for a family member to come back from seeing her loved one, I was able to quietly observe. It was during that time that I was able to see a mundane hallway come to life with its own unique atmosphere, one that can be seen as a metaphor of the ebbs and flow of daily life:

“The skyway was bathed in the mid-afternoon sunlight; the patterns of the spotless floor were punctuated with the golden outlines from the large window panes. I sat alone on a ledge, an invisible observer.

About fifteen paces away, a new arrival, a man, was looking out the window. His white lab coat was neatly pressed and his brown face was furrowed as he focused his gaze across the urban landscape. Speaking intermittently into a utilitarian silver cell phone, his voice emanated a tone of understanding and empathy. When he paused, he would cock his head slightly, as if the slight change in angle would be conducive for listening to his conversational partner. As he stood, silhouetted in the rays of light, the man projected the image of quiet confidence.

I closed my eyes, blocking out all visual sensation. Only the soft hum of fluorescent lights punctuated with the soft staccatos of padded footsteps would punctuate the serene silence. I became unaware of the passage of time. Then, somewhere in the distance, the ringing of an elevator signaled its arrival to the second floor. A pneumatic hiss accompanied a whooshing sound as a pair of automatic doors opened. Now there were multiple footsteps and harsher chatter.

I opened my eyes. The man in the white lab coat was slipping his cell phone into one of his deep pockets. Passing me, he turned and walked rapidly around a corner, disappearing into the labyrinth of passageways. Two dark shirted individuals walked past my line of vision; their boots thudding resoundingly against the hard floor and the wheels of the bed they were rolling squeaking in protest to their rapid strides. A small herd of people could be heard as they laughed and spoke rapidly, emerging from an unseen niche and traversing the skyway. Suddenly, a man still wearing a mask rushed past me, causing a turbulence of cool, scentless air. As his footsteps receded, only the click of an elderly lady’s cane could be heard. She ambled past before she too disappeared into the labyrinth. When the sound of her cane receded, the area became quiet once again.

The soft hum returned to the hallway. Unseen by countless eyes, I remained, an invisible observer.”

 

My Second Attempt

You don’t always get a second chance for most things in life. However, a new blog thankfully doesn’t fit into this category. This is my second attempt at blogging after posting an interesting but muddled mix of thoughts, tirades, song lyrics among much else. It also has a new title, Serenity and Discord. My last blog was entitled Serenity, but, after much thought, I’ve determined that “Serenity” does not necessarily capture the breadth of emotion for some of the topics I’ll be posting. I promise I’m not a pessimistic person; life is just too complex to be characterized as solely serene. This is a fresh start; if not in life, then at least on paper.