Thursday, July 28, 2011

Character flaw

“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.