And 6 months later…

I am still alive, and actually doing just fine. I have no excuse as to why the long break from my writing. At times I feel like I am transforming so much that I cannot put it into words. I am both shocked that I am a doctor, and yet also quite comfortable making decisions in the middle of the night when paged by a nurse. I still have moments of self-doubt, and the moments of terror (am I doing the right thing?) are fewer and so much farther apart. That’s probably because I spend most of my time in the PM&R inpatient wards, where patients are learning to live with their new bodies, after spinal cord injuries, falls that caused broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and cancer diagnoses. Most of the patients are pretty medically stable, otherwise they wouldn’t be on the rehabilitation floor, where they are expected to do 3 hours of therapy daily. But there are always surprises, patients who become unstable, and have to be transferred off to medical floors where they have closer supervision.

Though I no longer have to deal with the life and death decisions I had to make while an intern doing internal medicine, there is still a great amount of intensity involved when people’s lives are put into total upheaval with their loved ones having had a serious injury, like a spinal cord injury. I cannot even begin to imagine how a patient adjusts to being paralyzed, to having to learn how to live in a new body that you cannot control. All I can do as their physician is to give them the tools they need to take care of their body, and the words of encouragement to take care of their spirit. The mental strength to take each day as it comes has to come from inside of them, which I have seen varies from day to day, from week to week.

I myself have had a great transformation in my life, which is nothing in comparison to becoming paralyzed as one of my spinal cord patients, but it has shook me to my core, and caused me to think so much about what my priorities in life are. My father passed away several weeks ago, quite suprisingly, and quickly. I had a week to come to terms with the inevitable death that was approaching, before he peacefully passed. A week to spend with him, to rub his feet, run my hands through his incredible head of hair, and a week to visit with my siblings. It was the first time in 30 years all of my siblings had come together. And though that is really sad, I’m sure we’re not the only family that waits to reunite until a family member becomes ill. I see it all the time in the hospital. It was a bittersweet Christmas reunion for all of us, as we surrounded my father, loving him as he passed.

I returned to work, on the spinal cord unit, with a heavy heart, but also a greater appreciation for life, for family, and for the impact that illness has on a community of loved ones. I’ve realized that we all want the same things. To be loved, to be surrounded by family and friends, and to be healthy. I can only hope that in participating in the transition of my dad’s life from this one to the next, wherever he may be, I will learn to be a better physician, a better daughter, a better sister, a better wife, and most importantly, a gentler judge of myself. Thanks Dad for everying you taught me. I will continue to make you proud, as I strive to take wonderful care of my patients.


One Comment

  • Jen Hardy wrote:

    Reading this makes my heart fill up. Thank you Valerie for sharing this. I miss you and your insight. XOXO

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