My, what a day today has been.
Orientation started yesterday. I have been really nervous and anxious. I felt worse than a child before his first day of school. Never before have I been this way. The first day of school is usually much anticipated by me. This time, it was the opposite.
Contrary to what most people may assume, I wasn’t anxious about getting to the grind of studying. I was nervous about meeting my classmates and professors. I wasn’t sure how they would treat me and what they would think when they saw a guy in a wheelchair. Back home, it seemed like everyone was always very surprised that I was going to medical school. Most people—adults and young people included—were skeptical and looked at me doubtfully. It’s what I was mostly referring to in my post "Compensate".
I thought that attitude was going to carry over with my peers. Yesterday, we had orientation with the students from both campuses. Oh man, I was embarrassed the whole time. It started when I noticed everyone was dressed better than me, with their ties and fancy-shmancy shoes and stuff. Instead of buzzing my hair short every other week, I had been growing my hair out to cover up my scars. I was even embarrassed when I rode the bus and had to get on and off using the ramp. It was as if I was hoping no one would notice that I was in a wheelchair, haha. Stupid me.
Today was one of those days that I had to just laugh at. I’m usually fine with lack of sleep early in the mornings but this morning I was feeling sour for some reason. At least I made sure to deck out in a shirt and tie. The first event planned for today was brunch with the whole class and the professors. The lounge area is up a couple steps, so there is a wheelchair elevator next to it that I can use. I got inside, closed the door, and pushed the button to go up. It started to go up for a second, but then it shut off. I was stuck. A few professors, deans, and students came to help me. After the initial embarrassment, I was laughing the rest of the time at the timing of the situation. The campus dean brought my breakfast there and a fellow student stopped by a little later to take my plate and ask me if I wanted anything else. I had to be taken out (minus my wheelchair) by a professor and a few students. The faculty apologized to me and commended me for my patience and good spirit throughout the process.
I asked the faculty member who helped me out if we could get the maintenance guys to put in some piece of soft padding on the doors of the elevator so they wouldn’t be so loud when they slammed shut. “We could, but don’t worry about it. No one cares about the noise. It doesn’t disturb anyone. We’re all family here,” he replied. Yeah, yeah we are.
We had lunch with the deans of both campuses a few hours later. The campus dean gave a wonderful talk and I tried to force myself to think, “Yeah, Hammad, you did it. You’re going to make it.”
A day before, our campus dean was commending one member of the administration for doing so much work “behind the scenes” to get the new campus up and running. This woman later introduced herself during lunch and had a chat with me. She told me how they have only had one other person in the history of the medical college who was also in a wheelchair. She said how his classmates loved him and that it was a balancing act for them with allowing him to be independent and offering assistance. The key, she said, is to know when to ask for help so that others become used to any associated limitations, while giving freedom the rest of the time.
In the evening, we were all invited to dinner in the dean’s backyard. I was told to go down the side of the house so I could get to the back. As soon as I started going down the hill, my chair got caught on the grass, tipped forward, and I fell onto the ground with my chair on top of me. The dean’s husband came out just when that happened and came to help, as did my friend who had dropped me off at the house. When I got back in my chair and was going to the backyard, the dean’s husband let me know casually that it’s okay to ask any of them for anything.
The dinner was good and I was able to chat it up with my classmates. I felt more comfortable with them this time. I even asked someone if I could get a ride back to my place. When we were getting ready to leave, the dean mentioned to me and several other students how she was really glad that I was able to make it to dinner. She said she’s thinking about having the other students take turns being in a wheelchair for a day just to see what it’s like. The dinner and her talk with us made me really feel like I don’t need to be self conscious about everything in front of my peers. No one is judging me and we are all a family. There are only forty of us on this new campus. I told all my friends before I came here that everyone better be cool since there are so few of us and I’m sure we will all be pretty close. I am confident that that will be true. And like the dean said to us and another faculty member repeated, we made it. We did everything to get this far and we will make it all the way. There will be times when we will think that the admissions committee made a mistake and that we shouldn’t be here, but everyone will be thinking that. We are all ready. It’s time to enjoy these next few years. I’ll just have more obstacles to overcome than the rest of my class, but it’s nothing that can’t be done with a smile.