Tuesday, November 29, 2011
If enacted, new laws would force Internet Service Providers to block websites that any corporation suspects violates a copyright or suspects doesn't monitor it's users' content close enough for copyrighted materials. That means that any website, foreign or based in the U.S., could be wiped out on suspicion and made unavailable to everyone in the world.
This week there will be a historic filibuster of the Internet Censorship Act where the names of every person that signs a petition against Internet censorship will be read. I added my name. Please add yours too.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
[I wrote this post over a month ago when I went home for Thanksgiving break. I didn't post it because I thought it was kind of dumb. It's ironic how the post starts off.]
I’ve mentioned before how I sometimes start posts but don’t finish them. I was looking at some of the file names of these unfinished posts and I noticed how one of them was about my bedroom. I had started that post when I was supposed to be studying for an exam. Sick and tired of being cooped up in my apartment and staring at medical texts, all I could think about at the time was being at home in my old bedroom.
I received a text message from my mom a few weeks ago asking me if she could throw away some of the CDs and DVDs that were in my room. I hated when my parents or sisters take something or throw away things from my room.
When I refer to “my room” I mean my room. Not the room I sleep in now on the main floor whenever I go home. That used to be the guest room and the only new things added in there that I use are a desk and a pull-up bar.
My room is directly above the room that I use now. It used to be my sanctuary. Big stereo, big bed, posters all over the walls, green tie-dye sheets, big desk with a leather executive chair, little trinkets and memorabilia collected over the years scattered on my dresser and all over my room, books, magazines, DVD's, and CD's in a corner—those are the things that made it mine.
I was watching an episode of Dexter the other day and the main character was having trouble coming to terms with the idea that he may have to give up his apartment. His apartment was his private place of bliss where he could keep everyone at a distance and just be alone with his thoughts and secrets. “Everybody needs privacy, some more than others. That's why god created golf,” another character tells him.
That’s how I felt about my room. I loved staying up late after everyone had gone to sleep and watching movies, listening to music, reading, or just lying in bed. That’s how I recharged myself and how I collected myself when I wasn’t busy socializing or doing productive things.
Whenever I used to do “visualization” exercises suggested to me by different people, I always pictured myself walking up the stairs, going into my room, and diving under my covers on my bed. I’ve only been up to my room about three times in the past two and a half years.
When I went home a few weeks ago, I asked my mom why I was having to choose what items to keep from the boxes of CD's, DVD's, electronics, and random stuff that were under my bed.
“Your youngest sister needs a room, too,” she said, “and we already use your brother’s room as a guest room.”
That hit me hard.
I was upset when I asked my parents for my stereo so I could take it to my apartment and I thought they had thrown it away (thankfully they were able to find it a few weeks later in the attic). It’s hard to see things I had in my room being used by others or put into the attic, because of the memories and attachments I associate with things. It sucks that I often dream of going up to my room but cannot do so and that I haven’t even seen it in over a year.
It looks like the goal I’ve had of one day walking up the stairs and going to my room by myself and lying on my bed will really never happen. That’s a tough reality to accept.
I’ll never feel at home in the former guest room that I sleep in on the main floor whenever I go back home; that’s not my room. I don’t really feel at home in my apartment in Athens because most of my time is spent in my study room. I know this sounds dumb to a lot of people, but this is important to me.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
A friend of mine was asking me questions about my accident and how I felt about things, so I referred her to this talk I did because I couldn’t answer them all at the time. I ended up watching a little bit of it again myself.
In that talk to high school students, I said some things about my high school days and I mentioned how I was voted most likely to succeed. “Kind of ironic how that turned out,” I said. I thought it was ironic because I wasn’t successful and I was in a wheelchair—not what my classmates had expected.
In high school, I was riding high on life. I was student government vice president, I was on homecoming court, I was voted most likely to succeed (in addition to being nominated best all-around, most intelligent, and something else I can’t remember), I ran track & field and cross country, I was a peer leader, and so on and so forth. I was invincible. Or so it seemed.
I was going through a rough patch recently, but it didn’t get me down. An encouraging text message from my mom and a few kind words from a classmate made me smile and contemplate about things.
I found myself thinking this multiple times: would the boy I was be proud of the man I am now?
The boy I was would probably first ask me, “What exactly is a spinal cord injury?” He would then ask me about any other injuries I sustained, including the brain injury. I would then be expected to explain how it affects my life on a daily basis and to provide fun little examples to state my case (this boy was curious and liked stories).
If I had known I would be dealt certain cards, I would have expected myself to deal with them with class. I had never been one to run and hide. I know that with all things, some people have it better, but some people have it worse; things may come easy to some people, but more difficult to some.
If the boy I was met the man I am now, I don’t think he would care too much about my obstacles, failures, or rough patches. He would assure me that each time I fall, I should be able to pick myself back up. That is why I meet the meet people I meet; that is why I face the successes and failures that I do; that is why I’ve gotten into trouble for certain things or have been told certain things; that is why I experience pain and see others in pain. It is all to prepare me for bigger tests—tests that I should pass because I have been preparing for them my whole life.
I would want to be proud of the things I have done, the way I have treated people, the way I have acted and reacted, the way I have used my abilities, and the way I have dealt with my disabilities.
Although life hasn’t gone as planned, I think the boy I was would be proud of me. And in the end, I decided that’s what matters, and I kept calm and carried on. I know myself the best and I know what I am capable and incapable of doing, and what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I would sleep peacefully knowing that “future Hammad” stayed true to the things I thought were important and that with each task, he would be okay.
So, would the boy (or girl) you were be proud of the man (or woman) you are now?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
"Father paralysed from neck down holds his girlfriend's hand... using his mind to power robotic arm"
Sunday, October 16, 2011
“Body Suit May Help Quadriplegics Walk, Use Hands and Sense Textures”
The warm summer sun.
The warmth and comfort of someone when we receive a hug.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Two years ago, when my scars were still fresh, I was pretty self conscious. I had become a new person, and I wasn’t sure if people would accept me. People who hadn’t seen me in a while were shocked.
One year ago, I was anxious to start medical school. I was unsure of how my classmates would treat me. I was scared about starting and eager to live on my own. I wanted to prove to people—especially the doubters, but perhaps even myself—that I could attend medical school and live alone.
These blog posts have shown how I have evolved, although they certainly do not paint the full picture at times. My more recent posts seem to show how I’m much more comfortable with who I am, with how things are, and with life in general.
The shake back to reality happens when I am doing the most random of things, like checking my mail. I will think to myself, “Man, Hammad: you’re not like other people; you’re different. You really are different.”
I have to remind myself that I’m not walking to check my mail or to my car; I’m rolling. I can’t quickly run out of places; I have to use the elevator. I can’t pace through the aisles of the library or in my room while trying to memorize facts; there isn’t enough room for that while in a wheelchair. I can’t see other people (peers, professors, patients, etc) eye-to-eye; I can only do that when they are sitting down.
Then I wonder: what do other people think when they see me?
I think my close friends hardly notice me as being different from anyone else now, but what do they think when they do notice? I feel like my classmates also stopped thinking I am different. Or maybe it’s just me: maybe I stopped thinking I am different so I just think they have. I mean, I know I’m different, but I don’t let it bother me. But what do they think?
Most importantly, what do people who meet me for the first time think? This is what I was always self conscious about.
People who are taller tend to get more respect. Just like animals in the wild, they tend to be seen as the alpha males who can more easily control a room, influence others, and dominate an argument. Now that I’m sitting in a chair all the time, it is as if I am as tall as a child. I’m sure this makes people inadvertently think they can overpower me. This should be frustrating, but there really isn’t much I can do.
If I’m half as tall, sometimes I think I have to work twice as hard to prove myself. And then sometimes I think I don’t have to prove myself.
I was again having a conversation the other day with a friend about “people with disabilities” versus “disabled people”. My speech therapist corrected me once when I said something about “disabled people” and she told me how I should say “people with disabilities” instead. Think about it.
People from countries outside the United States seem to have a harder time seeing past a handicap. Because for them, people back in the home country just stayed at home and did nothing once they had a debilitating accident or illness.
Although I see myself as a “person with a disability”, I know that people who see me for the first time, some parents, and perhaps some people who have known me for a while (but not comfortably) see me as a “disabled person”.
Everyone has a disability; mine’s just visible.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Remember when you were young and into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other things quasi-martial arts/ninja related, and you would draw yin-yangs randomly on things or wear them on necklaces just because you thought it looked cool? Well, I mean, at least that’s what the guys I knew and I did when we were kids.
The idea of two opposite forces in harmonious balance is an interesting one. I do not claim to know about Eastern philosophy (or any philosophy, for that matter) or what certain symbols/ideas exactly represent, but I do appreciate the idea of balance.
One thing that people have asked me is, “Why you? Of all people, why you?”
I have never dwelled on thoughts questioning, “Why me?” I have always believed that things happen for a reason. At times, it is beyond our feeble minds to grasp how this is possible. To me, this is related to the butterfly effect, where one small change results in significant differences at a later state.
Anyways, back to the idea of balance—
People are confused/amazed when I tell them that I was not alone in the vehicle at the time of my accident. In fact, I was in the passenger seat of our SUV with both my parents and both of my younger sisters in the car. The end result was that I was the only one who sustained significant injuries. I am the only one who continues to feel the effects.
But in the end, I would not have it any other way. By that I mean that I would prefer putting up with the injuries that I have than witnessing another family member, or other family members, deal with these injuries. I would rather have this happen to me than any of my friends. In fact—and I have said this since the beginning as I lay in my hospital bed—I would not wish the things I’ve been through on anyone, not even my worst enemy (if I had a worst enemy).
How can we know joy without experiencing pain? How can we feel true happiness without feeling true sadness?
If this had not happened to me, would it have happened to someone else and would that person be dealing with it daily, instead of me?
I honestly hope not.
I have not been posting as much lately because I am continuing to refine the way my brain and body work, and these days, I am in a state of peace.
In line with the ideas mentioned above (everything happens for a reason, the butterfly effect, etc.) I feel like everything I have been through since I was young and everyone I have ever met have prepared me to deal with my situations.
We all have our set of experiences and we all have our own set of obstacles to overcome. Some of us have it better; some of us have it worse. But who we are will allow us to handle them. That’s why we are dealt our hand. Do not pity the ones who have it hard; pity the ones who have it easy, for they lack mental fortitude and are unable to show a full understanding and appreciation of things.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I started to apologize for the scant amount of blog posts for the past month or two, but I deleted it. I don’t feel like I need to apologize.
It’s been great. I’ve been clearing my mind.
If you kept up with my blog posts from the past school year and when I finished up first year, you may have noticed that I had a lot on my mind. I carried a big load on my shoulders: a load consisting of stress, insecurities, and feelings of potential failure—in all senses of the word. After our final exam on the last day of school, those feelings did not stop.
I remember when our class had a specialty roundtable one evening. Physicians participating in different specialties in the community sat with us and answered questions. Somehow the topic of relaxation came up, and one physician advised that if given a certain amount of vacation time per year, one should take vacations of at least two weeks off, not one week. The first week will be spent unwinding, and then the second week can be enjoyed.
When I was finally free of responsibility for a few months, it took me about a week to de-tense.
I decided in May that my plan for the summer was just self-development and recovery. I was going to read a lot, exercise a lot, re-learn guitar, and get a lot of sleep.
My ADHD got the best of me as I started a few books but put each of them down after about forty pages. The guitar stayed in its case in my closet. I got a decent amount of sleep when I wasn’t staying up late watching movies or chatting with friends. I exercised a lot but burned out and took a couple of weeks off before school started up again.
But it was all great. I feel like a new person.
Sometimes it surprises me at how little people think—not about certain things, but anything, even about nothing.
This world is a noisy place. Our minds are noisy places. Don’t you wish there was a mute button for both the world and for our minds?
As I quoted in my blog post “Mad Cow”: “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” – Deepak Chopra
For most of us, our first impulse when we get in a car, especially if we are going on a long drive, is to turn on the music. I admit, I’m the same way. But I continue to grow more and more fond of turning off the music, silencing my cell phone, and rolling the windows down. Then it’s just me, myself, and I in the car. Quiet.
Sometimes I think about things deeply. Everyone thinks about things, but this isn’t forced thinking or the thinking one does under pressure or in crisis.
And then sometimes, I enjoy just not thinking, maintaining a state of “no mind”. This is a meditative state that is practiced in people of almost all cultures and faiths. It's essentially about not worrying about the past, about what has happened, about the future, about what will happen—it’s about concerning oneself only with the present moment.
Because of this, I sometimes find myself forgetting about my current state of affairs. It’s not until I see people rushing somewhere or talking about playing sports that I remember that I am in a wheelchair. Maybe it’s because I have gotten used to who I am, physically and mentally.
As anyone can imagine, coming to terms with a physical disability is not an easy task. Certain people never grow accustomed, and they may end up committing suicide. Because my currents tasks require me to use my intellect, coming to terms with how differently I am now mentally has been harder for me over the past year. But I think I am getting there.
I still do think about the past and about the future, so don’t hold me accountable for any future thoughts, but I must say that I am much more at peace.
It’ll be alright.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
“He’s stubborn,” the faculty member told my mother and aunt, “real stubborn. But his stubbornness is what got him through this.”
My khala (that’s an Urdu term for mom’s sister) was visiting so I took her, my mom, and sisters to Athens with me one day to show them around. We stopped by my medical college and met with a few of my professors and deans from this past year.
My khala was telling them how the rest of my extended family in Pakistan is always concerned about my well-being and how I am getting by and doing things, such as attending medical school. She said it was good that she came and saw things for herself so could reassure everyone back in the motherland that I was doing well.
One faculty member at my school told my mother and khala how I’m really stubborn, how they’ve had to fight against my stubbornness, and how she thinks I’m coming around now. “But his stubbornness is what got him through this,” she also noted.
Before I started medical school, my mom said she was going to quit working for a little while and live with me. But I was stubborn. I refused. I wouldn’t let my parents ever bring it up. Then the next phase was that they wanted a nurse to live with me. Again, I refused. Next, they wanted me to live with a roommate who would be willing to help me if I ever needed it. I turned it down again. This whole process went on for a few months. Finally, I settled upon allowing my parents to visit for a few hours on Sundays to help me clean up my place. I wanted to live on my own without anyone’s help, and I made sure I got what I wanted. I’ve had my share of obstacles—I’ve fallen onto the floor a few times and had to muscle my way back onto my chair or sofa, I recently got a second degree burn on my leg from a mistake in the kitchen, etc—but it’s been an invaluable experience and I’m glad I was stubborn.
I tend to also resist help from friends, fellow students, and faculty members. This just made me get stronger—physically, mentally, and emotionally. There were times when I felt like I shouldn’t be doing this, when I felt like I should have taken another year off to recover—physically, mentally, and emotionally. But I had started it, so I was going to finish it.
I have just a little over a week left before we start classes again and there will be no break until who-knows-when. This year brings its own set of challenges: mandatory patient exams which I still cannot perform properly due to physical/structural limitations, harder material, visits to the hospitals a few times a week for our clinical skills class, and the most important standardized exam we will take in our medical careers (after the MCAT, of course). But I’m stubborn. It’ll help.
Monday, July 18, 2011
[Originally written on July 13, 2011 but finished today. Well, it still seems unfinished but I'm posting it anyways]
Last week, I had a birthday, and it got me thinking.
Yesterday, I found out my neighbor who is my age died at a party the night before, and it got me thinking.
Today, I went to the Shepherd Center, and it got me thinking.
I started thinking about time.
Like time, there's always time
On my mind
So pass me by, I'll be fine
Just give me time
How quickly time does pass. When I was my younger sister’s age, one year meant seemed like forever. Being 20-something felt so far off. It seemed so old. I remember in third grade thinking that by mid-20’s, I’d be working, married, and established.
I am none of those three. And that’s okay. I am just making a point about the absurdities of time.
When we were going through the Shepherd Center, I was reliving memories—good and bad—that I had during my stay there. My former doctor and therapists recognized me and when I told them that I was there two years ago, their mouth dropped when they realized how long it had been.
My neighbor who passed away was also so young. “We saw him mowing the lawn and running just the other day,” my family kept staying. “He would always take care of our cats when we would go out of town.” Death is a thief that robs people’s loved ones without any warning or preparations. Life and time are such fragile things that must be protected and valued above all other things.
The other day when my youngest sister was sitting in bed next to me reading, I thought about how she probably doesn’t remember me being able-bodied. She probably only knows “wheelchair Hammad”.
There is no time: there is no time for grudges; for arguments; for unhappiness; for hate; for all things negative. We need to let go. We need to stop keeping people around us that make us unhappy and stop doing things that we know are self-destructive.
Being in a wheelchair sometimes makes me feel like a silent observer in the world around me, like I am sitting still while the world around me is running around at great speeds. I wish I could just slow things down. Put a hold on time.
There’s always time. On my mind. So pass me by, I’ll be fine. Just give me time.
It’s time to let go.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
During this last summer break for the rest of our MD lives, I am conducting research in Athens. I am researching the cardiovascular response to functional electrical stimulation in patients with spinal cord injuries. One of the patients that comes in is a “regular”. He’s quite animated and all of us researchers enjoy it when he comes in. The other day, he said something to us that I think only I fully understood.
“It’s the little things that you miss the most,” he told us. He described the ability to cough. He recalled how he initially was not able to cough strongly or cough up things. I zoned out a bit as I thought back to my experiences, but I caught the end of his discussion of the topic when he said, “I miss being able to do those kinds of things. People think it’s about the big stuff like walking, but it’s the little things that you miss: being able to cough, man.”
My mother and a good friend would describe how they had to give me water with a dropper. Another good friend told me how I once woke up in the middle of the night choking and gasping for air. When the nurses rushed there, they stuck a tube down my throat and removed a tiny bit of mucus present, due to pneumonia, which had been obstructing my airway. This was all when I was delirious and coming out of a coma. I don’t remember any of it. My ribs had broken off and had punctured my lungs and my throat and airways were constricted, which I assume were a side effect of the spinal cord injury or possibly due to other injuries.
I became fully conscious and able to form memories after I reached the Shepherd Center in early June. I could not speak above a whisper and after saying a few words, I would become out of breath and fatigued. Two best friends of mine who were always there with me told me that despite this, I made sure to talk to everyone who came in. I guess I felt rude not talking to people if they came to see me—some from far away. Months later, I would receive the encouraging compliment from my therapists, “Nice sneeze!!!” if I let out anything that was even barely audible.
For a long time, I was not able to eat solid food or drink normal fluids. My food was pureed like baby food and my fluids had to be thickened with corn starch. If you read my last birthday post, you may recall that that was when I was finally allowed to eat solid food and drink normal fluids. The reason my drinks had to be thickened is because normal fluids could go down the wrong tube, causing the fluid to enter my lungs (aspiration) and making me prone to pneumonia. As stated in the birthday post, pneumonia is the number one cause of death among people with spinal cord injuries and I already had it twice.
I stated in this blog post and in this interview that even a year later, I could not talk loud and I feared running out of breath whenever I spoke. Tonight while driving, I was thinking back to what our patient had said and about my own experiences and I decided to test out how strong my lungs had become. I remembered how I had a pretty good sneeze earlier that day and I was feeling pretty cocky. So I let out a loud shout and a yell with this song playing through my speakers. If you listen to the song you can see why that's ironic. I smiled.
It’s the little things.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
It’s interesting to sit back and watch how people react to certain situations.
“A lot of people get angry after they become paralyzed. They get pissed off at the world, at God, at other people,” I was telling someone the other day.
“You never really got angry,” he replied.
With a life-changing injury, extended hospital stay, paralysis, and a wheelchair come a lot of frustrations for which one cannot predict or prepare. On top of these things, nobody else can understand unless they are in the same situation. Thus, people in wheelchairs tend to be angry.
I remember one day, a group of us patients at the Shepherd Center with accompanying guests and a few therapists went to the airport to participate in a simulation by Delta airlines. We were shown how to go through security and metal detectors, get onto the plane, and get into our seats. After we went through security a second time, one patient asked his wife for his iPhone. She didn’t have it. He blew up. He was swearing at his wife and telling her how his whole life was on that phone and how he would never trust her with anything ever again. She apologized, but he just kept getting angrier. Everyone in our group was quiet. His wife went back to the security line to see if she had accidentally left his phone in one of the boxes. A few minutes later, he found the phone in his bag. I looked over at my brother and we both were trying hard not to burst out laughing.
I've heard about people becoming bitter and full of resent. After my friend's dad temporarily injured his leg in an accident and couldn't do certain things, he would get mad at his son if things weren't done perfectly. I explained to my friend how it can be frustrating and make people really mad when they are unable to do things the way they prefer. People don't like change. So one can easily see what effects a life-changing incident may bring.
When I was younger and going through my stage of teenage angst, my brother and my parents would often tease me about being easily irritated. That phase came and passed, as I’m sure it does with most people. Years later, my close friends would note how impatient I was: I would finish other people’s sentences; I would skip songs after listening to the first 15 seconds; I would get impatient waiting for someone’s response; I would get antsy waiting for exam results… I couldn’t wait for anything!
Things changed. Now, I honestly do not see the point of being angry or upset.
Why do we get angry? Are we that into ourselves? Are our egos that big and fragile that anything that goes against our opinions or what we believe or know makes us angry? Sometimes we get angry when we see or hear something happen to someone else. How productive is it, really?
I was talking to a friend of mine who was getting angry over something. I wanted to stop and ask, “What are you getting out of being angry? Is it helping the cause? Or are you just reinforcing the negativities?”
After going through everything, I’ve realized that life is too short to be angry. It seems like such an irrational and pointless use of one’s energy. When I see someone getting angry, I just smile. Things can be frustrating at times (as can be seen by my frustrations with school), and I can still be impatient at times (though magnitudes less than the way I was before), but anger is something I just don’t understand. It almost always causes more harm than benefit.
Raising voices makes people seem powerful and in control of the situation to themselves. The person who yells back usually tries to raise the volume by a few more decibels to try and become the one on top of the argument. In reality, it is not the one who gets angry over a situation nor the one who yells back that is strong, but the one who knows how to show proper constraint and compassion. All others are fools.
While anger is a general expression of insecurity to something, it can also be the result of being passionate about something. “I’m angry because I care.” Well, if you care that much about something, then use your energy to figure out a way to truly understand and change the situation.
Although things happen and we may not see the reason for them, one should learn to find solutions, to make things better. When things are seen or words are said that rub us the wrong way, this is just an opportunity for change. And if things, situations, or the words people say/believe cannot be altered, then that is fine. We should be secure with ourselves.
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” – Deepak Chopra
Since I was in the hospital a few years ago, people have asked why I laugh at things, even during inappropriate moments. My answer at the time? "If I wasn't laughing, I'd be crying." I continue to smile/laugh at things because almost everything in life seems so trivial, and there is nothing else to do but smile in this world.
Monday, May 23, 2011
I started writing a blog post last week about finishing my first year of medical school, but stopped writing after about half a page. I looked at the date and my mind got distracted.
It has now been two full years since my accident. Two years. Wow, it’s hard to believe. It’s hard to believe I’ve come this far. I never thought I’d make it.
Things have become routine now. I sometimes forget about the way I used to do things before my accident.
When I look in the mirror, I still see a scar.
The scars remind me that the past is real.
I have several scars that have faded with time—some not fully, though. I had two prominent scars on my face that were not a direct result of my accident, but were due to the hospital staff in Augusta strapping my face mask on extra tight because I deliriously kept trying to rip it off. It left two deep, dark scars on each side of my nose. The one on my right side faded within the first year after much scar cream, but the one on my left side is still slightly visible.
The gnarly scar on my neck is still there. I believe the back scar is also still there, although it has probably faded significantly, as indicated by this photo from one year ago:
Why am I talking about scars? Sometimes I forget about my situation until I see them, and then I remember. The scars hide a lot.
I finished off a year of medical school! It’s been a long year, but it has also gone by so incredibly quick.
When I think back to one year ago, all I remember is apprehensiveness surrounding the whole thing. My parents were still trying to convince me to not live by myself. They were worried about how I’d live on my own and how I’d do in school with everything I have to balance. Other people were concerned about the same thing. I felt like people looked at me with doubt. I was concerned about how my classmates would treat me and look at me.
Throughout the year, I doubted myself many times. I came in very confident and almost immediately got shot down.
There was about a one month period when a certain medication I started put me into severe depression. Once I discovered what was making me feel like that, I immediately stopped it. That was not a bright time. I wrote about it, but did not post it. I will post it here now ("Bulletproof"). I’m glad that only lasted a short while.
I had a few meetings with some faculty members at school. I told them that I was frustrated with things, and they told me how they were all impressed at how I was dealing with things, progressing, and how far I was going. That was certainly encouraging.
Living alone and going to medical school a year after everything I have known for +22 years was turned upside-down really made me “grow up”, so to speak.
During year one post-injury, I was coping more with my physical situation. Over year two, I dealt with my mental situation. I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I can confidently say I worked harder than any of my classmates and anyone that I know.
There were times when I told myself I was in over my head. There were times when I wanted to quit. I became so frustrated with things because everything was different. I wasn’t the same person. I spent a long, long time studying things. On our weekly quizzes and on our exams, my grades were definitely not reflecting my effort at all.
Or perhaps they were reflecting my effort, considering certain circumstances. I was pulling my hair out because I really wasn’t the same person at all. I did not have the same mind. The scar on my neck reminds me of my traumatic brain injury; it reminds me of the time I spent on the brain injury floor; it reminds me of all the times I was told to reconsider professions; it reminds me of why I had to work so hard to keep my dream alive of becoming a physician.
Thankfully, I made it through alive.
I’ve decided to live in the present as much as I can. These past two years have gone by faster than I have ever thought, and two more years will go by just as quick. No doubt, though, I am surrounded by constant reminders of how different I am, and I am also grateful because I feel like they have given me a new outlook on things. I’ve always liked challenges.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
For her, it was music and singing. When she sang, it took her to a different place. She thrived on it and she would become restless and unhappy if she hadn’t sung in a while.
Having a passion is different than something you just like you do. It’s what gives you happiness and peace in times of turmoil. It’s what you wake up thinking about in the mornings. It’s what influences the planning for the rest of the day and for your future. It’s what interrupts your train of thought when you are trying to focus on other things. It’s what you go to sleep thinking about.
“So what’s my passion?” I asked my friend when we had the conversation. This was troubling me because it seemed like I didn’t have anything like that at all. I was just a boring blob.
I have one girl in my class now whose passion is writing, I would have to guess. She is an author and she thinks about writing all the time.
I was talking to another buddy in my class and he was saying how his friend recently got into an accident and is now quadriplegic. His friend was extremely active and had nothing else going on in his life except for just being outside all the time. My friend was saying how it would be extremely hard for his friend to adjust now because there is nothing else his friend liked to do. That was his life.
“Yeah, I can understand that one, man,” I said.
“I bet you can relate to that, for sure,” my friend in my class said.
I thought about my classmate's passion. He loves to climb. “Loves” is an understatement here. He lives to climb. It’s what he thinks about constantly. In class, he can often be seen watching climbing videos. Before med school, he spent a few years climbing around the country. His weekend plans now usually have something to do with climbing. He said he took leave from one dream, climbing, to pursue his other, becoming a physician.
I brought up this topic of passions with him. “Yeah, you need something like that. Or else you will go crazy. You need something that brings you back to that place of zen. That brings you back to yourself.” We both agreed upon that. I told him how I used to be working out, running, b-boying, swimming, or doing some other physical activity everyday and how much of a change it was to not be able to do any of that. I can imagine that his friend must feel dead and I reckon my friend would also feel that way if he could not climb anymore.
So was physical activity my passion? I was constantly thinking about health and working out and it always brought me peace. My days often revolved around what physical activity I was going to do that day. Instead of wasting time on Facebook like most people my age, I was reading health/fitness/nutrition blogs. So was that it? Was my answer that simple?
Back in high school when I asked my friend what my passion was, her response surprised me. She knew me really well so I trusted anything she would say. “People,” she said. “You are passionate about people. You love interacting with people. You would do anything for them.”
My close friends now can attest to that as well. Before the craziness of med school, I had a rule for myself: people come first. Even if I had an exam the next day or had to wake up really early, I would put my friends first if they ever needed anything. If someone was sick or emotionally troubled, they came first. Grades can be redeemed or repeated. Connections with others sometimes cannot.
“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” –Sydney J. Harris
I said “before the craziness of med school” because I have had to stop interacting with people as much. School keeps me occupied most of the time. Still, if I know someone is upset about something, I cannot concentrate on anything and I cannot sleep at all either. I want to know that they are doing okay. So, there are harms to this as well.
I guess this conversation I had back in high school comes as consolation to me. I know that I can still have the thing I am most passionate about. And I am not ashamed of my passion. Sometimes, it hurts me, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. As a future physician, I think this will help me.
What’s your passion?
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Thank you, everyone, for the amazing support and comments on Facebook.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
The other day in school, we had to combine all parts of the patient exam that we learned throughout the year, minus the musculoskeletal portion, into a complete patient physical examination. This included examining the head and neck, cranial nerve function, chest/back (heart, lungs, kidneys, etc), and abdomen (liver, spleen, etc).
I was asked to stay by the physician after everyone had left.
"Your style of interviewing patients is very good. And I know you know your stuff. But the way you examine the patient seems awkward and you can't do certain things. It's not your fault, of course. But you will fail if you can't do things different."
My heart sunk. I swallowed hard and forced a smile. “I understand,” I responded. This was not what I wanted to hear. I started crossing off more specialties that I would not be able to do.
“Not all patients will be as compliant and will be able to move to make things easier for you. And this will not cut it during the graded exam, and they will fail you.”
I was then extended an offer to come in for additional practice. I told her I was busy during the week with studying but that I could come in on Saturdays. She agreed to come on the Saturdays she is free to help me. I am very grateful for her kind offer. Also, if any of my classmates are reading this and are able to study at the building on Saturdays or Sundays, I would greatly appreciate it you could let me know and then spare 15-20 minutes letting me practice on you so I can get used to people of varying heights. Well, that goes for any of my friends in Athens, not just my classmates.
I’ve thought about this many times before but have only mentioned it to a few people (because I think people will think I'm weak): I envy those who are able to perform the actions they want with ease. I envy those who are able to reach over or forward with both hands without fear of falling forward. You see, my injury level is such that I also lack any trunk stability. My best friends remember how initially I was so incredibly scared to move even slightly while in therapy. With every movement on the mat, I thought I would fall off and crack my head open on the tiles. Can’t tell, can you? Like riding a bicycle, I forced my mind and body to retrain and learn how to balance myself without falling over. I was initially told that I needed to wear a chest strap at all times, but I disregarded that advice from therapists, like lots of other cautions they gave me. I’d still be at home with my parents if I listened to everything everyone ever told me.
When I see people being able to examine someone using both hands without stabilizing themselves with one hand and not worrying about falling over, I secretly wish they knew how lucky they were.
If you can reach both hands forward, perhaps to hug your mother or your best friend, consider yourself truly blessed.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I was going to write about this before but just never got to it. One of the few times I get down now is when I see a BMW 3-series (E46 or newer).
The only other time I had a car of my own was in high school for a little while, and even then it was a car that I had to share. I didn’t have a car all through college. My dad promised me that if I got into MCG, a public med school that would end up saving me a ton of money, that he would help me get a [reasonable] car of my choice. So I worked hard all through undergrad and finally got into medical school. Then, I got an E46 BMW 3-series—silver exterior, black interior, stick shift. I made sure it was a manual so that I would be the only one in my family (and among most of my friends) who knew how to drive it. Man, I loved it.
I really babied that car. I told myself that I wanted to understand how to take care of cars on my own, so I got books and joined BMW forums and really learned the ins and outs of it. Since it was about time for me to do some maintenance on the German car when I got it, I did that and some repairs on my own, much to the amazement of a mechanic whom my dad showed it to. I added halo eyes to the front to make the car look beautiful at night and I also installed an iPod kit on my own that allowed me to control my iPod with the steering wheel. I put my sweat, blood (not really), and tears (not really) into it. I did put my heart into it.
Then about four months later, I got into my accident. I had to sell the car because nobody else in my family knew how to drive manual. At the time, when I was thinking about selling it, my mom told me, “Two things you should never be attached to in this world: cars and houses.” Then I decided to let it go.
So, whenever I see an E46 BMW 3-series, I pine after it. It's crazy how we miss the little things. I remember the feeling of the clutch under my left foot and the black leather shifter in my right hand. Life was so much easier with the windows down and the iPod blaring as I shifted into 5th gear.
I was thinking yesterday about how I could maybe get a car with a Tiptronic* transmission, allowing me to go from automatic to manual and not have to use a clutch. I would miss using the clutch pedal and comparing the ease/smoothness/sensitivity to different cars, but being able to shift through gears would still bring back some of the excitement.
Two days ago, I noticed that the car I have now does have that.
I felt really, really stupid for not noticing it earlier.
And then really happy as I started using the clutchless “manual” transmission.
This may not seem important to other people, but my BMW meant the world to me. And night-driving with the music on and the windows down is one of my favorite things ever—especially doing it while shifting gears.
*I know “Tiptronic” is the term for the manumatic transmission originally developed my Porsche, but I used it here because it seems like a more commonly used term than “manumatic”.
Speaking of Porches and Tiptronic transmissions, I saw my dream car in a handicapped parking spot yesterday. This also put a smile on my face.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Monday, March 7, 2011
“Everyone is with you in times of happiness. You have to see who sticks with you in times of darkness.”
That’s a rough translation of something my mom said to me in Urdu once.
I was talking to a friend about this topic. I have mentioned it several times on here, but never devoted a whole post to it, I don’t think.
My friend was telling me how when she was going through a testing period, she lost contact with some of her old friends.
I mentioned how the same thing happened to me. People who I thought I would always be friends with stopped keeping in touch me and supporting me. Other people came out of nowhere and showed incredibly touching, spirit-lifting, and helpful gestures.
Everyone is with you when things are all good and all fun & games. When things get tough, a lot of people can’t deal with things.
Some people are willing to be there with you and share your pain. They are willing to suppress their own desires for a little while so they may take away your pain.
These are the people you should surround yourself with—not the people who are just “super fun” and know a lot of people or something.
Sometime early in high school, I developed a mental screening test for my closest friends. It’s quite ironic now, considering what happened to me. The test is this: I think about if I was in a car accident (or another situation of equal weight) and my mind was distraught and not able to gather my thoughts clearly, would I call this person?
This question I use tests if I really and truly trust this person and if my heart is truly invested in them and they make me feel safe/comfortable, whether I was consciously aware of it or not.
A few people I have thought I was close to failed this mental test for some reason. I guess my mind/heart just said, “No.” There are some friends who I don’t talk to as much anymore because we are just busy with things, but who I know would be there for me if I needed absolutely anything. And when I think I have found “the one”, I’m of course going to use this again.
It is only in times of darkness and when things are falling apart that we see the true character of people.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Every few months, things seem to be fall apart.
It starts off with me not doing well in school. Then it starts affecting my social life. Then other more physical things start getting affected.
Every time this happens, I think one thing: this wouldn’t be happening if things were different for me.
I would be doing a lot better in med school if the accident never happened. The brain injury I suffered really may or may not actually be affecting me in a neurological sense, but the doubt instilled in me by the people around me because of it certainly has. Am I really dumber? I feel dumber. I know I could be doing better.
Simple things take longer for me to do, and I can’t help but think I could save a lot of time or go to places easier if I wasn’t in a chair. So, my education and social life has certainly suffered. With one aspect suffering, the other probably responded by also suffering, thus creating a vicious cycle.
My health is not exactly great right now and I know I should get it checked out because it could be something serious. But right now I have more important priorities that deserve my time, I think. If it’s not serious, I’ll regret ever wasting my time, so I just ignore it.
A friend is annoyed at me because I’m too friendly, I guess. A few people I was good friends with were in town this past weekend, but didn’t feel obligated to let me know or try and see me. I think they felt like they were friends with the old Hammad anways.
Now that things are troubling my mind, other things come up that serve to remind me that I’m different. The backrest on my wheelchair is broken in one spot, so I sometimes have to spend extra time fixing it when I am getting out of the car. The handle I use to transfer in and out of the car is also breaking, so I’m taking extra time now while getting in and out of the car by a different method. This is while I hope and pray that my arms/balance don’t give out or my legs don’t spasm mid-transfer and I end up with my butt hitting the parking lot floor. One anti-tip bar that prevents my chair from falling backwards (especially useful when my backpack is heavy) is loose and could easily break off at an inopportune time, which would cause me to bust my head if I ever tip back.
All these things just make me think about what things were like before and if I can recreate them now.
I know I’m not dumb. Well… I think I’m not dumb. So why do I keep making stupid mistakes? I stop and think about how I did things before so I can go back to being the person who was smarter, better, stronger. Maybe I can go back. Maybe I can excel at things again. Maybe people will see me for who I really am.
“I’m actually surprised you got this far,” someone important said to me. Sweet.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m supposed to be studying for a huge final exam I have on Friday. I can’t focus so I decided to try and clear my mind.
I know I’m not supposed to think about “if” statements. “If this had not happened… maybe I’d be doing better.” “If this had not happened... maybe people would like me better.” “If this had not happened… I wouldn’t be trying to figure out this or that situation." Those statements will drive a man crazy so I’ve done my best to avoid those thoughts.
But it’s hard not to think them sometimes, like when things seem to be falling apart.
“You can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.” – Outkast
I wrote the things above earlier when I was really frustrated. Since then, I have reevaluated things and realized that it doesn’t make sense to think those kinds of things. It doesn’t help anyone. There is nothing to do but to learn from these obstacles and keep on going. Find something new.
Alfred Pennyworth: “Took quite a fall, didn't we, Master Bruce?”
Thomas Wayne: “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Sunday, February 6, 2011
That’s a photo of one of the tiles on a hallway wall in the Shepherd Center.
Passersby may not pay attention to this tiny tile amongst the many other hand-painted ones. In addition, most people who see it will just smile at the nice grinning sun and just think for a brief moment that the quote must mean something profound since it is by the Roman philosopher Seneca. They will never think twice about it or why it was written on the tile.
When it seems like there is nothing to live for, when living each day brings deep pain of all kinds, then living becomes an act of courage.
When I think about about my fellow patients with me at the Shepherd Center, I think of the bravest people I know. We were expected to move on with our lives—nay, start a new life—after everything we have ever known changed. We did not ask for this, and complaining or whining about it would get us nowhere.
In medical school, one of the patient cases that we focused on one week was an individual with major depression. The patient felt like she “shouldn’t wake up in the mornings”, which paralleled her other signs of major depression.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “I remember not wanting to wake up in the mornings either.” I remember going to sleep every night thinking and praying that this was all a dream and that I would wake up in the morning in my bedroom and everything would be normal. And then every morning, I would wake up disappointed. It didn’t help that we had to wake up early every weekday morning for therapy; to work hard just to do simple things that a two-year-old could do with ease.
I was very tired in the mornings. Physically tired because my body was sore and in pain and I never seemed to be able to get enough sleep anymore. Mentally tired because everything was so incredibly draining in this new life that was worse than death. There’s a song I used to listen to when working out when I wanted to get focused, and I occasionally listened to that in the mornings to get me going.
In the beginning, my chest brace hurt. My neck brace hurt. My neck staples hurt. The nerves in my right arm hurt. Speaking and swallowing were difficult.
After a while, I started wishing and praying every night that I would go to sleep and never wake up. Then, in the mornings, I would wake up disappointed that I had woken up to another day.
My relationships with friends would never be the same. The way people looked at me would never be the same. I could not participate in the same activities or go to certain places anymore. Simple tasks would become a huge obstacle. Everything would take longer for me.
But we found a way to start anew; to build from bottom up. What other choice did we have?
Our bodies fought for us to stay alive when we should have left this earth. We had to fight ourselves to stay alive each day when we sometimes wished our bodies would have just let us go.
Sometimes, living each day takes strength beyond measure. I applaud my fellow hospital-mates and hope they are all doing well and are happy.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
As Amber notices me pull my wallet out of the little pouch under my wheelchair:
Monday, January 24, 2011
“Sometimes I like people I don’t know better than the people I do know.”
A friend said that to me the other day. I laughed and told her that she was weird, so she gave me an example of a woman who gave her a stack of bus tickets for free because she got them at work and thought my friend seemed like a nice person.
That got me thinking later on about the things people do for others.
There have been many times when people that I do not know offer to help me with things. Just the other day, I was wheeling myself in the rain from the parking lot to my apartment. A couple was walking out from my building. The young woman saw me and rushed towards me. I didn’t even notice it. She quickly came up beside me and held her umbrella over me and walked with me to my apartment so I wouldn’t get wet.
And there were so many times, in the months after my accident and even to this day, that people I hardly knew really made a lasting impression on me. I have received kind words and sometimes guidance via visits, phone calls, e-mails, and messages. I now consider some of these people “angels” or “saints” for me. Those who frequently visited me in the hospital are included. If anyone from my class is reading this, there are some of you who I have the utmost respect for and you may be unaware of it. It may just due to something you said to me or did for me that you do not even remember.
Why does it mean more to us when these people do things for us?
Because we do not expect it. Perhaps we expect too much from the people we know. We want them—sometimes need them—to do things for us. They were there for us in happy times. Shouldn’t they be here us when we need them? We certainly like to think so.
Also, we do not know the flaws of a stranger. Our impression of them is not clouded by the previous things they have said or done. We only know the benevolent action.
Can we not continue to appreciate our friends and those close to us as if each action is being done with purity? The question, “Can you get this for me please? I’d appreciate it,” becomes the statement, “Get that for me,” after a while with those with whom we are close. We seem to lose our gratitude towards them.
But perhaps that’s the sign that people really are close to us. We understand that certain things are not a burden for them. It took me a long time to be able to ask for help from people—even from my close friends. After my accident, I noticed my closest friends becoming frustrated with me when I asked things politely or thanked them for an action. They should know that although I do not thank them often for the things they do, even the smallest things are appreciated by me. I love you all.
And what makes strangers want to do things for us? What do they get out of it? They may not see us again. We can never repay them.
Perhaps that’s it: the purity of intention. Doesn’t it feel great to help someone pick up some papers they dropped, or offer them your seat when they seem tired, or do any other miniscule action? The smile they may or may not give us in return is more than anything tangible we could ever receive.
When everything seems to be falling down around us, instead of hoping someone does something to help us, why not do something for someone else? I know I feel a lot better when I do this.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
It’s the little things that are missed. I’m sure people can relate to that.
Example: the little things about someone, like the strange things they do, or the way your friend can make you laugh at the stupidest things.
Another example: the little things about a place, like the smells or the way the sun peaks through the trees, accentuating certain things.
One of the memories I have that I miss is cramming hard and sleeping later during the week, hanging out Friday night, waking up late Saturday morning, going to Mama’s Boy for brunch, and then going for a walk in the park out behind the restaurant.
I go to school down the street from there now but I’ve haven’t been since I graduated from undergrad.
That’s a sweet memory, though. Mama’s Boy has a little parking out front so when it gets busy—as it usually does on weekends for brunch—you have to park out back. I remember a bridge. Is it something you have to cross to get to the park or is it overhead? Am I even thinking about the right place?
Some of my favorite memories have been in parks: going to a park near a friend’s place and wading through the river; mountain biking with my friend on the trails in another park; going to Stone Mountain Park with some friends and having trouble grilling up hotdogs (I was told that happened the day before my accident? It seems like decades ago).
Now that parks and the things I did aren’t accessible for me anymore, I miss them. I think it's the peace that they bring me. The grass, the tress, the sun--I love being wrapped by these things. I want to lay out in the grass and take in these things.
I always get nostalgic around exam time when I am trapped inside studying.
Just like we should enjoy the time we spend with people because they may not be here soon, we should enjoy the places we spend time in. Maybe it’s not the places that are significant. Perhaps it’s the people we were with and the memories that were made at that particular time and place. After all, it’s not where you are or what you do; it’s who you’re with that really matters.