Friday, January 30, 2015

Why Medicine?

“Okay, have a great day!” were the last words I heard as my only means of transportation and the only other native English speaker in walking distance that I would see for hours drove away in a cloud of red dust down the pot hole filled paths of the African bush. I was ushered into a small nursing office where the door was promptly closed behind me. I scooted onto a small wooden bench whose light blue paint was as dried and cracked as the dark, sun baked skin I was surrounded by. The unfamiliarity of my surrounding began to creep over me like the heat of a summer afternoon. My palms began to sweat. My mouth was suddenly filled with sandpaper, like I hadn’t seen water in days. All I could think was “Don’t pass out. Not here, not now”. And then the needles came. As I was focused on not face planting off of my already rickety seat, the nurse had begun to draw up what I assumed to be vaccinations. She nonchalantly pulled vials and syringes from her desk drawers. No paperwork to fill out, no physician to give the orders. As I looked up from my panicked daze, the needles looked to be the size of an old fashioned number two pencil. Irrational fear hit me like a ton of bricks. I suddenly threw myself into the plot of Taken or some other abduction movie. All I could think was that I was about to be drugged. I’d have pencil-sized needles gouged into my arm and taken to who knows where. It would be hours before anyone knew I was missing, no one there spoke English anyways. Just as I was convinced of my impending doom, the door opened and the first TB patient walked in for his round of shots and medications. I sank into the corner, unnoticed, as I watched a three year old take his vaccinations without a single tear drop as the blood rushed back to my face and the room came into focus once more.

Ear piercing shrieks rang out from the clinic door as I rushed over to pull it closed, tripping over chairs and Dora the Explorer tennis shoes, before the other children were disturbed by the commotion. “It’s just a little water. Un poco agua.” the nurse explained, trying to calm the hysterical sobbing coming from the tiny patient. She was about the size of my backpack, grasping my hand until my fingers were tingling, sitting in a chair that was two sizes too big. What her appearance was lacking in size, her vocal cords made up for. As more water went into her ear, another monster sized squeal emerged from my pint sized patient. She looked  at me with fear in her eyes. A fear of the unknown. A fear of being pulled out of class and into a cramped office with nurses and big scary instruments. A fear of knowing she was being talked about but not understanding a single word. She knew it was only water. She knew it was not a painful process to have her ears cleaned out. She knew the hearing test was almost even fun. But still that fear remained. That little hand never left mine as I tried to ease her fears with some Spanish stories. Those Dora shoes shuffled back to class, and as I returned the child to her classmates, her face lit up. The fear was gone, but the fingernail imprints of those terrifying moments left a lasting impression.

Ceiling tiles and lockers slowly came into focus as my eyes flittered open. Why were people yelling my name? Why was I laying on the ice cold floor in the middle of the school hallway? None of it mattered, I just wanted to sleep. If I could just close my eyes for one minute, everything would be better. As soon as the barbells that were sure to be sitting on my eyelids became too much to bear, I was being drilled again. “What’s your name? What’s your birthday? Don’t you fall asleep.” Panic. Obviously something was wrong. The floor was too cold and hard. The shaking was too violent. The people were unfamiliar. This was not a dream. At 16 years old, the only thing that stuttered from my mouth was “I want my mom”. As time seemed to be moving as if it were wading through mud, blankets arrived, my mom’s face joined the blur of people crowding in my field of vision, more questions asked, more fights against my desire to sleep, and before I knew it I was being strapped to a backboard. Arms and legs constrained. Neck in a brace. I could no longer glance over at my mom for comfort. I was whisked down the stairway and into the back of an ambulance. The tears flowed and the IVs began. As the paramedic quickly placed what felt like the largest needle ever made into my arm, the doors slammed shut as the view of my friends and mom grew smaller and smaller. What is happening? Where are we going? After coming around in my not so comfortable emergency room bed, I still couldn’t move. “You have to wear the collar until we know there is no spinal damage or a brain bleed”. A BRAIN BLEED?! If I was standing I probably would have hit the floor again. As the hours ticked by, the collar remained. The anticipation built. The fear grew like kudzu. Finally a freckle faced nurse with a pile of dark hair spilling over her face took my hand and said “ Honey, no news is good news”. A little while later the collar came off and I was on my way home. 

As the time to send out medical school applications quickly approaches, the question everyone seems to ask is “Why do you want to do medicine?”. My answer? Because medicine is scary. Going to the pediatrician to get vaccines as a little kid is scary. Having to go into the big, noisy MRI machine because you fell and busted your knee at summer camp is scary. Being put into the back of an ambulance, sitting in a hospital bed, waiting in the lobby for a loved one to come out of surgery, tests, scans, surgeries, blood draws. No matter your age or your toughness, medicine is just scary. Add in a language barrier or a cultural difference and that fear is multiplied even more. 
Through my experiences with medicine I have always had someone to hold my hand. I’ve always had someone to dry my tears and tell me it’s going to be okay, but not everyone has that. Who is there for the mothers as they hold their tiny infants born way too early. Who is there for the teenage girl who just found out she now has to raise a child herself. Who will hold the hand of African babies who have walked for miles just to get a vitamin supplement that wouldn’t even be needed if they had the proper food to eat. 
If I can be a comfort to just one, then it’s worth it. If I can be that shoulder to cry on after hearing a tough diagnosis, that word of encouragement to a patient just before the anesthesia takes over, or simply a hand to squeeze during the “small pinch” of those yearly vaccinations, then I will feel a life of accomplishment. Jesus has told us that above all we are to love Him and love one another. I think one of the best ways to love someone is to be there in their time of need. For me, that calling is found through the medical field. For you, it may look different. But as Suzanne Mayernick and Gwen Oatsvall put it, “He’s leading us by His love into a deeper experience with Him by giving us opportunity to care for others in His precious name…. Loving the one who’s in front of us. That’s what it’s all about.”

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