During the approximate two months of hospitalization after emergency surgery (in the Intensive Care Unit, Cardiac Care Unit, and Surgical Ward), I was always the patient who made the nurses laugh and my room became the “hang out” for all of the amazing nurses and techs who treated me. Between the many episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos and People’s Court (those and JAG were the three shows I always watched…it took months for me to be able to watch those shows again after I left the hospital thanks to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I managed to keep everyone smiling. It wasn’t even something that I meant to do, but I wanted to stay positive. Perhaps it was partially because I was protecting myself by ignoring the true reality of my health, but I will never forget the moment when it all hit me. I was lying in my hospital bed having just endured the checking of my abdominal wound (the incision had just blown open and the surgeon removed all of the staples requiring it to be packed daily) and it dawned on me. I could die.
It was the amazing medical staff, including my hospitalist (a DO or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, which is what I am going to be) and head nurse who sat with me patiently once I asked, “Am I going to die?” In that single moment, they were no longer just health care providers, and I was no longer just their patient. Suddenly, we were simply three human beings. They slowly crossed the room, drew up chairs alongside my bed and proceeded to spend more than an hour comforting me – not by insisting that I would live or by trying to tell me that everything was going to be okay, but by connecting with me. They answered all of my questions calmly and directly without minimizing my feelings. Their answers gave me the strength to move beyond the fear of dying.
As I reflect on that moment, I understand how great an impact it’s had on me. I’ve been the patient in that bed, surrounded by white coats who all talked at or over me. Additionally, I’ve endured my other health issues where I was told I was making up my illness and that nothing was wrong with me or I was over-exaggerating symptoms (probably every Lymie has lived through this as well). However, I have not let that change me. Instead, I believe that all of my life has prepared me to become a better physician for my patients. From all of these experiences, I have gained a special understanding and I hold deep within me the knowledge that patients are people first. I will treat those around me with respect and have confidence that, as a doctor, I will continue to learn something from every patient.
As Robert Brault once said, “Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose…” This could not be a more accurate description of my journey to this point in my life. I’ve battled so much and each taught me valuable lessons. Ultimately, I am proud of my life and celebrate it. Every single day. Ultimately, I shouldn’t be alive today, so I will make the most of every day I have been given. My path, just like yours, has made you who you are. Don’t see fighting your illness as lost time, because it has taught you valuable lessons… Instead, see it as moments of growth and let every scar or wound mean something to you. Never forget that you are stronger than you think you are. I know I am.