Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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Category — Life after hospitalization

Emptiness

Lately I’ve been feeling a certain kind of emptiness. Like something’s missing; there’s a hole that.. didn’t used to exist. It’s as though I’m less than my former self. You see, I recently had two of my wisdom teeth taken out and now there’s these two holes toward the back of my upper jaw.

Actually, the procedure did not at all live up to its unspeakable legend. Perhaps because they were only the uppers, which are supposedly easier to extract than the lower wisdom teeth. Perhaps because they just wanted to come out so badly. Perhaps because I’ve got a great dentist here in Cleveland (this is probably the real reason). But both were done in under forty-five minutes, with the only pain being from the local anesthetic injection (the one on the inside of the roof of the mouth always hurts, despite the topical numbing agent he applied first).

The more interesting part was the cab ride. My driver was an interesting guy who immigrated to the US, although I’m not sure from where. I told him I worked around Case Western, but didn’t mention working in healthcare or being a medical student. Which he didn’t assume, as he spent several minutes railing against science for its lack of progress on such things as curing AIDS and making paralyzed people walk. He said nurses only care about themselves and not about their patients (boy, my experience has been nothing but the complete opposite – most nurses I’ve interacted with care very deeply about their patients).  And he mentioned something along the lines of how awful it was that those scientists haven’t cured me yet. I chose not to get into a heated debate, and merely stated that it can be frustrating how slow things seem to move sometimes, but that people are actively researching these topics heavily.

After bashing people in healthcare, he proceeded to tell me about how his wife left him.  He returned home one day, and she was just gone – no explanation or anything. I won’t pretend to know the details of his marriage or make any assumptions, but his caustic, constant negativity certainly didn’t make me want to talk to or spend any more time with him than was necessary.

Later in the ride he asked “who cooks for you?” and if I have brothers or sisters to help out. I gave him a somewhat quizzical, “I cook for myself,” with a look intended to convey that his question was quite silly in nature. Now, don’t get the idea I’m a master chef whipping up four-course meals every day. I’m not, and I don’t. I never have. But I cook the same as I always have, no more, no less.

He looked back and said something to the effect of, “I feel sorry for you.” Not in a condescending way – at least, not intentionally. “Don’t,” I said, and I proceeded to explain why he shouldn’t and that he shouldn’t think of my life as any different from anybody else’s. I mean, sure there are the obvious differences. But I’ve never been a fan of the whole pity thing. Plenty of people in life have to do things a little differently than what’s typical. He was surprised.

I guess here’s where I could fairly easily segue into the loneliness of his life, but I try not to make assumptions like that. What I do know is that I wouldn’t want to live my life with such a negative outlook on people and events as the driver seemed to demonstrate. To me, that seems a whole lot more un-fun than living with a spinal cord injury. But I don’t know anything about his life, and it could be vastly different than I perceived on what could have just been an abnormal day for him.  We all have those. However, the experience has made me even happier that I’ve got the positive outlook I do on life. It’s made me appreciate how my approach to challenges isn’t, “oh, I can’t do that,” but rather, “hmm, ok, how do I do that?”  And that makes me happy.

Several days later a guy at a bus stop did a very nice favor for me in a completely respectful, non-condescending way that really was incredibly positive. But I have to leave something to tell for next time…

August 24, 2011   1 Comment

I Almost Cursed Out an Attending Physician

Hey there. Been a while, huh. Almost a year to the day. I’ve thought about writing more over the past year, as my goal was to document experiences I’ve had as a medical student living with a disability. And I’ve even got several drafts of things I’ve written over the past year that never got finished. It’s certainly been a busy year, but it hasn’t been without time to breathe.

In order for me to get things done, they have to make it to my massive task management list. It’s something I review regularly and it’s the only way I can get anything done. More about that at a later date, but the short of it is, I’ve decided to set a regular deadline for myself to write something here every few weeks. It’s something I really want to do, and that doesn’t seem an overly-impractical goal. Granted, who knows if I’ll be able to pull it off. But that’s the plan. So without further ado, here’s the first.

In late February 2011, I started my third year of med school (M3) with a couple months on neurology and psychiatry. One morning while writing a patient note during my psychiatry rotation, an internal med doc sat down next to me. He said, “Hello!” in a familiar way.  I had no idea who he was, but he sure seemed to know me. The man asked, “you don’t remember me, do you?”  I looked at him somewhat quizzically and shook my head. He said, “one morning, crossing the walkway…” And I knew exactly who he was.

I’ve written in the past about the strange interactions I’ve had with people – but that was mostly about people telling me I need a bell (I don’t), or that I should get a speeding ticket (I don’t go THAT fast), or that I’m quite adept at moving “that thing” (and you’re quite good at working those shoe “things” you have, thanks). One story always stuck with me, but I haven’t written about it before.

One morning I was hurriedly rushing to class at 7:50am, trying to be there by 8:00am. I took my normal route, which happens to pass through one of our teaching hospitals. As is the case for me, I was in my own world. I approached a walkway that had a slight incline, and started to go up it.  As I moved forward, someone asked if I wanted help.  I politely said, “no, thanks.” I wasn’t struggling, and it only takes 5-10 seconds to get up the full length of the incline.

The person again said, “here, let me help you.” And I again declined the offer, albeit not quite as politely as before. But the person persisted, and started to grab on to the back of my chair to push.

Now, imagine you’re walking up a ramp. Imagine someone asks if you need help, asks again after you decline, and then picks you up and starts to carry you. You’d be pretty ticked, right? You might even feel your personal space had been invaded.

I grabbed my wheels and squeezed my hands tightly to lock them in place before turning and angrily telling the person to stop, as I’d said several times I didn’t want help. I came very close to cursing at the guy, as this was very invasive on his part, but better judgment prevailed and I avoided it. Finally, he got the message.

And now, while entering my patient note into the computer two years later, here was the same person sitting right next to me. Wearing a white coat. Oops. Good thing I kept my tongue in check that morning.

We talked for a few minutes, and he told me how the brief, chance interaction early that morning, coupled with a story he saw on TV later that evening about an individual living with a disability, changed how he views and interacts with people living with a disability. He realized that, although well-intended, forcing assistance on people wasn’t the right idea. He realized that a big part of living with a disability is being able to retain control over the aspects of one’s life that one actually can still control. And that when people force help on you, it serves to take away certain parts of that.

He felt quite a bit of remorse for how he’d acted that morning, which was even evident two years later. And we ended up having a nice chat. We’ve since run into each other around the hospital any number of times, and it’s worked out to have been a positive experience for all parties. And every time I see him, I think how happy I am that one summer morning, I didn’t unleash a tirade that would have made a sailor blush.

You never know when you might cross someone’s path again.

Edit 2011-07-06: This post was recently selected by Doctor Fizzy for inclusion in Grand Rounds. To new readers, welcome! Have a look around and I hope you’ll come back and stick around for a while!

June 10, 2011   1 Comment

Cleveland and More Walking

Recently Kristina and I took a trip to Cleveland to meet with faculty at Case Med in preparation for my matriculation in July.  It was the first time I’d taken a plane since the injury, so it was a new experience.  But thanks to Sinai and the Internet, not anything I was apprehensive about.

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March 1, 2009   4 Comments

A Much Needed Update

Well, it’s been quite a long time since the last update.  Not for lack of activity, mind you.  Those of you who know me well know that I certainly don’t live a life of inactivity – wheelchair or not.  These past few months have been no exception.  So what follows is synopsis of what I’ve been up to, as well as the real important stuff: where I’m at with respect to recovery.

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February 12, 2009   6 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everybody, at least those of you in the US, had a wonderful Thanksgiving, replete with turkey, pie and all the trimmings.  And I hope you were able to celebrate it with those people who you are thankful to have in your life.  When I think back to last Thanksgiving, things are definitely vastly different for me than they were last year.  And while the events of the past year certainly could leave me with a laundry list of complaints, the things for which I am truly thankful far outweigh the meaning of any of the negative things.

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December 2, 2008   7 Comments

A picture’s worth a thousand words

Well, it’s been a while since I posted something.  I’ve been pretty busy lately both with therapy and some other things I’m keeping my mind occupied with.  I’ve ramped up to four days per week of physical therapy, and I’m hoping to add a fifth before too long.  I feel like I’m at the point where my core and my legs are starting to get strong enough that more work is actually beneficial to them, as opposed to resulting in stiffness for days after. It’s a good feeling, and although I’m occasionally frustrated at having to deal with all of this, the continued progress really helps me to stay positive.

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November 6, 2008   5 Comments

The Passing of Time

One thing that has truly struck me since being discharged from the hospital is just how quickly time passes.  And I’m not even talking about how quickly life flies by when we’re all busy living it, but how quickly it passes when you’re not busy living it.  Time seems to be passing me by much quicker now than when I was preoccupied with work and/or school.  I would have thought it to be the other way around.  But I guess when one doesn’t have a significant mental goal to reach for and focus on that there is no basis by which to judge how quickly time is passing.  Or at least, that’s how it is for me.

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September 8, 2008   4 Comments

A dip in the pool…

I’m still damp.  Not sopping wet, mind you, but just a nice damp.  I got in the pool late this afternoon during a session with a physical therapist I know who lives close by and is helping me out.  It was the second time we got in the pool, the last being about a month ago, and I was excited at the prospect.  The last time we got in the pool, I was able to put weight into my left leg and stand on it.  I was also able to take a few steps, although the therapist had to brace my right knee since the quadriceps and hamstrings weren’t kicking in to help straighten it.  This time went even better.

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August 13, 2008   4 Comments

A Bombshell and the Magic of Medicaid

Often times I think about how regularly I post to the blog, and wonder if I should post more often. Maybe more regular posts, but smaller in length. It would be easier to digest and easier for me to write. But then I ultimately come to the conclusion that posting every couple of days would just be too often and not provide enough fodder for quality posts. So I post once every week or two (well, it’s been once every two weeks lately) and wind up having more to say than I’d realized. This whole act of blogging is incredibly cathartic, as you might expect, and the process of organizing my thoughts to write really helps me to deal with everything.

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July 16, 2008   5 Comments

One must crawl before one may walk..

A large part of rehab so far has made me realize that recovering from a spinal cord injury is a lot like being a baby all over again. You have to rediscover your body and how it works. And sometimes how it doesn’t.  Parts wake up that you’d gotten used to being asleep, and I certainly know how a baby feels when it sits in place wiggling an appendage just because he or she can.  I do that a lot too.  I’ve felt since much earlier in rehab that regaining the ability to walk will quite possibly even more make me feel like a baby.  When my physical therapist had me get on the ground and start crawling, though, I couldn’t help but laugh.

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June 29, 2008   18 Comments