Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stages, part 2: Anger


Although I have a shelf exam next week, I thought it was time I finally finished the post “Stages”.  My talk at TEDxGeorgiaTech went alright but I know I could have done a lot better.  I really opened my heart and grew on that stage, so even if no one else was affected by my talk, I was affected.  I will post the video on here once it is posted online.

As I mentioned in the previous post on stages of grief, after denial comes anger.

My doctor and therapists sat down with my family and me one day, as they do with all patients at that hospital, to tell me about my injuries and my prognosis.  We were shocked.  I had no idea what some of the medical terms meant, but it didn’t matter.  I would show my doctors and everyone else that no one really knows what’s going to happen.  They can’t hold me back.  I’ll throw their silly statistics and prognosis back in their face and show them who’s boss.

Some people who suffer from a debilitating and life-changing injury become bitter, as I have previously mentioned on here.  I remember watching as a fellow patient became really mad at his wife because he thought she had misplaced his iPhone.  “My whole life was on there. That’s the last time I trust you with anything,” he said to her.

When misfortunes like this happen to us, it is perfectly reasonable to see why anger and frustration may arise.  We all like to have things the way we want them and the way we are used to having them.  Other people can’t do things the way we usually do them.  Mistrust and skepticism arise. “Why must things change,” we ask ourselves. “Everything was going so perfect, and then this had to happen. Ugh.”

Adapting to new things is hard.  Most of us do not like escaping from our comfort level.  What makes everything worse is when situations like this are thrown upon us without any warning.  Then, we have no choice but to adapt.  We have no choice but to once again relearn everything we once knew and learn how to do things in a new way.  It is in times of hardship that our true character is revealed.

My best friends who were and are always with me in my journey recall how scared I was when I first started physical therapy after I regained consciousness.  I was terrified.  I was on the edge of the mat and I was holding on tightly to the mat and the physical therapist.  My eyes were screaming, “Help me,” to my friends and family members.  I was convinced that I would fall off the mat and crack my head open.  Why was this so hard? What happened to me? Is this a dream? When will I wake up?

Several months later, a physical therapist gave me a toy Velcro ball/catcher’s mitt set one day during therapy.  She wanted me to sit on the mat and play catch with her.  The goal of this was to practice sitting up, moving my arms, and maintaining balance.  When a friend later asked me what I did in therapy that day, I was embarrassed to describe how I spent the day like a six month old child, learning how to sit and balance myself.

Why did I have to do all of this? What did I do to deserve this? No one I know has ever had to do anything like this.

A friend’s older brother one day gave me some of the best advice I was ever told.  He said, “Never ever ask, ‘Why me?’”  Asking myself, “Why me?” and becoming angry would not have gotten me anywhere.  In reality, it would have prevented my progression.

No, I wasn’t angry.  I was thankful.  I was thankful that although everyone in my family except my brother was in the vehicle, I was the only one injured. I was thankful that none of my friends had to experience what I had to experience.  I was thankful that through my injuries, I was rekindling old friendships, developing new friendships, and influencing my family and friends.

Admittedly, although I was never actually angry, I did become frustrated a few times.  It frustrated me that I had to put off future plans for an extra year.  It saddened me when I couldn’t play sports or go to certain places with friends.  It embarrassed me a year after my accident when the wheelchair elevator got stuck in front of all my classmates during the first day of medical school orientations.  But I never let it show.  In reality, I know that these things never completely bothered me.

If I let my hardship blind me and if I only perceived the difficulties, I would not be able to see all my blessings.  And if my situation affected my family and friends in such a deep and sometimes wounding manner, then I had to be the one to show them that even in times of complete darkness, the oft-forgotten and discarded candle brings light until the sun rises.

[It looks like I still haven't finished up with writing about all of the stages of grief. I may finish it up or I may move on to a different topic. My TEDx talk seems to cover the rest of it!]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TED

Please excuse me for not finishing my last blog post yet. Things have been really busy in the hospital. I was also asked on Monday to do a TED talk this Saturday! Unlike other TED speakers who have months of preparation, I only have a few days to come up with an idea and prepare. Let's hope I do okay. Only the best talks are posted online, so if I'm good enough, I will post the link on here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stages


Since my last blog post, I have been fairly busy with my medical rotations. Currently, I have twenty-four hour shifts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.  When I am not in the hospital, I am trying to catch up on sleep or trying to study.

I use my standing wheelchair when I am in the operating room or sometimes when I am seeing patients.  When I am not doing that, I am usually sitting and observing/talking to patients or sitting at a desk and trying to study.  My leg muscles get really tight from sitting in one position for so long.  Scrubbing in (thoroughly scrubbing/washing the hands up to the elbows and wearing sterile gloves/apron) and keeping things sterile while in the operating room has proven to be an interesting challenge.  When I am fully scrubbed in, I cannot touch my wheelchair to move myself.  One of the nurses on the surgical team has to move my chair for me and raise/lower the standing mechanism on the chair so I do not touch anything that is not sterile.

This is a new experience for everyone.  The physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, midwives, and other members of the medical staff have never had to figure out how to do things while in a wheelchair.  Things may take a few seconds to figure out, but I’ve noticed that most people don’t look at me any differently (or maybe they do look at me differently and I have just stopped noticing).

That’s why a practice question I came across earlier caused me to think about my progress.  The question stem described a couple whose newly born child had just passed away and were questioning what had happened and could not believe it.  The question then asked what stage they would go through next.

The K├╝bler-Ross model’s five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I’ve been through pretty intense situations, so when did I experience this?  Did I go through all of these stages?

Let’s start with the first stage:  denial.  I am not sure if what I went through would be what others would consider as denial.  When I first heard about what had happened to me, I thought that I would be out of the hospital and 100% recovered in a few weeks.  My friends and family thought that as well.  It was not that we refused to believe the reality of the situation; we simply did not know exactly what to believe.  I had countless people asking me if I tried any specific surgeries or telling me about an old medicine man from their homeland that knows how to treat everything.  No one really knew what a spinal cord injury meant.  In regards to my brain injury, I would always tell my neuropsychologist, therapists, and physicians that there was no difference in the way my mind worked.

Once I learned about the extent of my injuries and what a spinal cord injury actually was, the harsh reality still didn’t settle within me or my family and friends.  As a therapist once said, everyone wants to be that guy who defies all the odds and leaves his wheelchair behind and walks out of the hospital.  I wanted to be that guy.  My family and friends were confident that I would be that guy.  We all hoped and prayed, all day, every day.

Every night, I went to bed praying and wishing that this was all a dream and that I would wake up like the old Hammad.  And then, every morning, I would wake up and nothing had changed.  It was hard for me at first to get motivated to get up and get out of bed, but I did it.  Sometimes I think I didn’t do it for myself; I did it for my family and friends.

This is not me.  This is not who I was.  This is not who I am.  This is not who I am supposed to be.  My loved ones and I tried hard to convince ourselves of those things.

I had a friend who told me it hurt her too much to look at me.  We had become good friends through my college years and our group of friends had plenty of good times together.  We did the funniest and craziest things during those years.  But to see me bearing the pain and disabilities that I had was too much for my friend to handle.  So I smiled and told her everything was okay and that I was fine.

My family and friends told me not to think of any other option for me but success and complete healing.  That is exactly what I did.

But what happens when the infinite amount of prayers, positive thoughts, well wishes, dreams, and goals fall short of making something—anything—change?  Where do you go from there?

I want to continue my story but this post is already getting a bit long.  I am talking about the past because I have met many new people who have asked me questions about my life and as I have said on here before, I do not want to forget my past.

To answer the question I asked above and to serve as a preview for my future posts, I end this post with a quote by the nineteenth century author Oscar Wilde:  The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Connecting

[Disclaimer:  I was told this post was pretty personal. All my posts are personal to some degree but they all just skim the surface of what has happened and what I am thinking. No, nothing specific happened that led me to write this. I know readers of this blog come from different backgrounds and I do not mean to isolate anyone. I just thought it was time to say the ugly truth that no one likes to acknowledge.]

I know I haven’t written anything in a while.  These days I wake up early, go to the hospital, come back exhausted late in the afternoon and then rest and eat at my apartment or out with friends. I have barely enough time and mental energy to study. Starting next week, I will be on call for three nights each week.

A friend of mine recently asked to interview me for an assignment.  She asked me many questions and we ended up having a good discussion on many topics related to my disability and life in general. Her questions eventually led to a discussion on how people view disabilities and on relationships.

I have skipped around this topic on my blog a few times but I have not addressed it explicitly. This is usually a discussion I have with my friends. So let me say things plainly and straightforward now.

Soon after my accident, some things happened and I was hit with a hard reality that I already knew but weighed heavily on me nonetheless:  people would never look at me the same ever again. My life was forever changed. Everything I used to know and everything I used to be was gone. I know I have said those things a few times on here, but I don’t think people truly understand what I mean.

My friend who was interviewing me said she was going to ask some personal questions and asked me how I envisioned my future.  She asked if I still planned on getting married and having kids.  “Of course,” I replied. I told her how my situation now doesn't change my ability to find someone like I once thought it would. As an immigrant who naturally seems to cast his net for other first- and second-generation immigrants, the problem does not lie in me “clicking” and “connecting” with a girl; it lies in the approval of their parents.

You see, according to many immigrant parents, no matter what the country of origin, and even to some close-minded young folks here, having a handicap does not mean that everything is normal except for the one handicap. For them, it means that the person himself/herself is handicapped. The person is disabled. There is nothing he/she can do. There is no way that he/she can take care of themselves. Back in the motherland, a person with a disability did not do anything. The person is a burden upon society and a burden upon their family. That is why people like me are looked down upon by these people.

My friend who was interviewing me told me how frustrated she was by this view that people have. It’s not my fault that I have to use a wheelchair now. I didn't ask for this. I didn't do anything to deserve this. If someone’s son or daughter had a tragic accident and was in the same situation, how would they feel and how would they want their son or daughter to be treated? If your husband or wife was in an accident and acquired a disability, either physical or mental, would you leave them?

I am a big proponent of breaking any and all stereotypes.

As I stated in this previous post, that is one of the reasons why I work so hard. That is one of the reasons why I have lived alone since just one short year after my accident. That is one of the reasons why I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor. As I said in this post, keep playing. I know I am different, but not in the way most people think I am.

I want to change people’s perceptions. I want to show the more close-minded people that they should not judge people simply by their looks.

Unfortunately, changing people’s perceptions may just be the first, simple step. Immigrant friends and their parents also care too much about what other people think. Gossip is the most favorite pastime among almost all of our cultures. What will these people tell their friends or their family members, especially those still in the motherland, if they or their child is attracted to someone with a disability? The egotistical concern for the approval of others is prevalent and at times sickening. We are all at fault at times, but we must learn to keep this in check when it comes at the expense of being intolerant or caring for one’s own self-perception instead of others.

A new friend recently said to me how surprised he was when he found out a few weeks ago that I have not been in a wheelchair my whole life. He had to ask a few other friends to get my full story. He then proceeded to view my Facebook pictures and go through my Facebook timeline to see my past. Yes, I told him, I spent twenty-two full years of my life able-bodied like almost everyone else. “From what I got from Facebook stalking your past, it seems like you have taken things very well. The energy and outlook on life you had before is still there. That’s awesome,” he said.

The smile I wear every day is the result of previous pain and experiences I would never wish upon anyone. They have resulted in my contentment and love for everyone and everything. I wish to break stereotypes that people hold and spread tolerance and acceptance.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Go confidently

This post is to serve as a reminder for myself.

Before I started third year clinical rotations, I was eager to start seeing patients but I was also a little anxious.  I was anxious because it is well known that physicians will ask medical students questions regarding a patient’s disorder and its etiology, symptoms, and management.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to answer all of these questions correctly on the spot.

Being in the hospital has been amazing.  I can honestly say that this is my true calling.  Even though I have to wake up every morning earlier than usual, I am eager to see patients, learn from the attending physicians and nurses, and try to help the patient in whatever way I can.  I meet the most interesting people, both young and old.

All the patients have been very cooperative in regards to the awkwardness of having to use a large wheelchair.  The elderly folks smile and tell me to keep pursuing my goals while the children love to play with my wheelchair. 

It happens pretty often that a physician or nurse will tell me, “Watch out for that one,” or, “This patient is crazy,” before I go into a patient’s room to interview and examine them.  I can confidently say that I have never seen what they’re talking about.  Sure, I’ve had some unusual patients, but they have all been very kind and cooperative with me.

One attending physician told the nurses that I’m “the patient whisperer” because no matter how “crazy” or “out there” the medical staff says a patient is, they are completely normal around me and tell me things.  Being called “the patient whisperer” may not seem like an accomplishment to some, but for me, it is.  I love connecting with people.

Another attending physician was telling other medical students about an unusual patient we saw and added, “She said she was going to leave but Hammad talked her out of it.  Hammad disarmed her... with his charm.”  I loved hearing that.

As I said above, my main concern was being able to answer the random questions asked by the attending physicians.  Whenever I am questioned, I freeze up.  I usually answer slowly as if I’m unsure of myself.  Surprisingly, however, I am correct most of the times.

I guess these past few years have made me unsure of myself.  I thought I had gotten over being unsure, and I have for the most part, but I think being expected to instantly give an answer for something I haven’t studied in months or years makes me a little nervous.

During an evaluation, my attending physician seemed to pick up on these things.  The physician told me, “I’ve noticed that you don’t try to prove yourself. But in doing so, you prove yourself,” thus acknowledging the fact that I’m not a gunner and always trying to show off.  I’m not self-conscious about the wheelchair anymore, of course, but I seem to still be self-conscious about my current knowledge base even though it seems to be adequate.

There is a time to be confident and a time to be modest.

I just want what is best for my future patients.  I know I need to start answering more confidently, but I will still question myself and make sure I look at other possibilities before being overzealous and jumping to conclusions. 

I don’t need to impress anyone; I just want to be the best that I can be.  As I stated here, that is all we can ask of ourselves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Advancements?

I saw something cool the other day when I was on rotations in a doctor's office and that got me thinking about how advanced our world has become.  We are able to quickly see inside the human body, make a diagnosis, and prescribe appropriate treatment.  Recently, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars and is sending back photos from another planet. Another planet.  When we were young, we would never have thought that we'd have Skype and Facetime, things that allow us to see and talk to people as far away as the other side of the world, on our phones that are small enough to carry in our pockets.  Pause and think for a moment about how amazing all of this is and how far we have come.

But then I remembered that there are whole groups of people in this world dying of starvation.  They constantly feel the stabbing pangs of hunger and are dying.  This happens every single day.  People are killing each other over meaningless "differences" or because their thoughts, values, and what they think is right are not what someone else thinks is right.  We continue to discriminate and even hate others over these differences, whether they be race, religion, sexuality, political beliefs, disabilities, or anything else.  We have the nerve to possess ego and consider ourselves superior to other individuals and groups of people.  We hate our fellow humans.  We are blind and we ignore the pain, suffering, and deaths around the world.  I will say this again--we ignore our brothers and sisters who are dying of hunger or of differences in thought.  Pause and think about this now for a moment.  What justice is this?  What progress is this?

No, we are not advanced.  No matter how quickly and easily we are able to treat/cure those of us blessed to be born in this society, no matter how many planets we explore and discoveries we make, no matter how technological we get, we are not advanced.  We are a failure as a species.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Young folks, old folks



I love med school now.  You may have noticed a change in my tone over these past few years.  The only way to describe my first two years of med school is by a feeling of drowning.  I know others feel the same.  I slowly started to breathe as I progressed.  I’m only partly through my third year now and I am loving it.  The things I see and do every day reinforces why I decided to become a doctor in the first place.  I have also learned a simple truth about life:  really old and really young people are funny, happy, and great to be around.  Everyone else in between is just “blah”.

I have written before about how I love babies and little kids.  This is the first time in my life that I’ve spent several weeks interacting with the elderly, though.

The old and the young are similar in a lot of respects.  They both seem to live in a sort of timeless zone.  There is no past.  There is no future.  They may have completely or partially forgotten about the past.  Thus, it does not bother them.  They also have no worries about the future.  When was the last time you saw a ninety-year-old regretful and in agony for something they had done when they were thirty years old?  When was the last time you saw a four-year-old worrying about what they were going to do in a few weeks?

How often do we regret the things we’ve done in our past?  How many of us are worried about what we will be doing in the future or about our upcoming deadlines?

Both the old and the young have very simple needs:  they need food, they need shelter, they need love.  They are careless and they are content.  What happened to us?

Somewhere along the way while “growing up” and become “mature”, we strayed from this track and became lost.  We started “needing” many different things that really were not vital.  We started needing attention.  We started having pride.  We started getting our self-worth from what other people think.

One thing you may also notice about these two groups is that their mouths usually do not have a filter.  They are honest and say whatever comes to their mind.

There are many things we can learn from the very young and very old.  Firstly, the past does not matter.  It does not matter who you were before or what you have done.  Those things have past.  Forget about them.  Save the good memories that make you smile for when you’re sitting on a balcony and watching the sun rise or talking to your loved ones, but do not worry about the rest.  You cannot change those things.  I cannot change the fact that I have experienced things that I wouldn't wish upon anyone.  Also, the future isn’t that big of a deal.  It will come when it comes.  My future was pretty well laid out before but after my accident, I do not know what to expect and now I am very uncertain about my future.  Who will I become?  What will I do?  Will I have a "normal" life like I always thought I would?  It’s humbling to meet elderly individuals who know they may pass away any day or even any hour, yet have accepted it and take things lightly and are always smiling.  They do not miss an opportunity to help someone else.  And children live so much without care for the future that they can hardly think passed what they want to do when they go to the park that afternoon.

The young and the old are not superficial.  They do not have many preconceived notions about other people or things.  They have been superficial or had biases at certain points in their lives, but now they usually do not care.

All of this not only got me thinking about how I look at the world, but also how the world looks at me.  Older people never make a big deal out of my wheelchair.  Neither do little kids.  Well, they sometimes run up to it and start playing with it, but they do not see how it could be a hindrance to anything.  You may say that they are simply ignorant.  But I contend that they are just not worried about what other people will think.  They do not get their self-worth from others; they get it from themselves.  They only judge something based on the criteria that it makes them happy and makes them smile.

When you are worried about that upcoming exam or deadline, about what you plan on doing for the rest of your life, or about what the girl you met last night thought of you, talk to a small child or an elderly individual.  Ask them what’s on their mind and what they are worried about.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Love before you lose.


I feel like I should first explain what I have been doing these past few months, because many of my friends haven’t seen me in a while and I have not written any new blog posts recently.  This summer, I was busy studying and taking the first and most important of our three medical licensing exams, the USMLE Step 1.  A mere few days after taking the exam, I started my third year clinical rotations.  I have thought and seen many things over these past couple of months that I have wanted to write about, but I have not had the time.  I usually just ended up discussing those things with friends.

I am currently on a palliative care rotation, which focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients.  I mostly see patients who are at the end of their lives.

Let me share a little story with you (with a few details modified for privacy purposes, of course):

     You are asked to consult on a 72-year-old woman in the ICU who was recently brought to the ER after suffering her second stroke.  She has end-stage dementia and is now unable to speak due to her stroke.  Her two sons are both present with her in the hospital.  As you flip through her chart, you notice that she does not have an advance directive, meaning that she has not specified what she wishes her care to be and who she wants to make health care decisions for her in case she is incapacitated—either physically or mentally.  Her lab values and tests show that it is unlikely that she will live much longer.
     Since she does not have an advance directive and is currently unable to make her own medical decisions, the health care power of attorney (the power to make health care decisions) is now legally with the widowed patient’s adult children.  You decide to bring up the difficult topic of their mother dying and what should be done.
     You explain the situation to her two sons.  One son listens calmly, is quiet for a few minutes, and then states that since their mother is in pain and will not live more than a few days, he wishes that she is kept pain-free, comfortable, and that she passes peacefully.  The other son is angered by this.  He states that there is no way his mother is dying and that everything must be done to keep her alive.  You explain to him that doing some things will only further her suffering without prolonging her life, but he does not listen.
      The two sons argue with each other all night while you are away.  When you return and see this, you decide to take the angrier son aside to your office to have a talk with him.  After about thirty minutes and plenty of tears, the son leaves your office and states that he too now wants his mother to be kept comfortable and free of pain, and that he will sit and pray for her as she passes.


Why was one son unable to accept his mother’s death?  Why did he argue and insist that she was not dying?

When he entered your office, you asked him these questions.  He burst out crying and explained to you that he did not feel like he had done enough for his mother.  While the other son lived with his mother and cared for her, this son lived in another state and hardly saw or spoke to his mother.  He initially felt that if he let her pass away now without doing everything medically possible, even if it meant more pain and suffering for her, he would be ridden with guilt.

Friends, do not let this situation happen to you.

Often times, it is not the patient who has trouble accepting their situation; it is their family members and friends.  I have both experienced this myself and seen this in other patients.  I was fine whenever something happened to  me.  When hit by life, I'm briefly frustrated, and then I do my best to be done with it.  There are some things we just have to accept and realize that we can't change, so we do our best to change everything else that we have the ability to do so.  I have noticed, though, that others cannot let it go.  Sometimes it is family members.  Sometimes it is friends who regret doing or not doing things to/for me.  I feel sorry for them.

We have a tendency to delay things.  We get so caught up in our own lives and our own desires that we push other things and other people aside.  We consider ourselves too important.  We are ungrateful.

Think about all the people who have done so much for us, including our parents, our siblings, our children if we have any, our other family members, our teachers, and our friends.  We cannot let opportunities to reach out to them and be kind pass by us.  We do not want to be left thinking after it is too late that we wish we could have done more for someone when we had the opportunity, but we were too blind to see it.

Love before it’s too late.  Love before you lose.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Article in Georgia Health News

Check it out:  I'm in a new article in Georgia Health News!

Debilitating injury doesn't shake student's drive to become doctor | Georgia Health News | July 2012

Yes, this is almost the same as the article I posted before here that was on medschoolproject.com, so it may look familiar if you read that. This has a few changes, though.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Article in emel

Front page of emel.com

     I was recently featured in this article ghostwritten by Chelsea Toledo in the July 2012 issue of emel, a UK-based Muslim lifestyle magazine with subscribers in over 60 countries and mainstream distribution in the UK, US, Middle East, and Southeast Asia.
     Thank you, Chelsea Toledo and emel!

The article is narrated from my point of view and is mostly composed of clippings from my blog, which you may recognize.

With Hardship Comes Ease | Real Lives | July 2012 | emel - the muslim lifestyle magazine

A little more about emel:

emel is a vibrant and dynamic lifestyle magazine with an ethical and progressive outlook that has a Muslim focus; there is no other magazine like it. It has captured the imagination of many people from Royalty to Downing Street.

Launched in September 2003, emel is exceptional in its presentation, message and outlook.

Combining high quality with exciting features, the magazine covers everything from current affairs to big name interviews, profiles of outstanding people to converts to Islam, health and finance, education and environment, interior design and gardening, technology and motoring, food and fashion.

The magazine has had an outstanding reception, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and has extensive media interest with features in the Time Magazine, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal, London Evening Standard, and Turkish, Malaysian, Dutch, Swiss, Iranian and Japanese newspapers. In addition, programmes have been broadcast about emel by the BBC, CNN and other international media.

Most notably emel’s interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury made global front-page headlines and created a lively debate.

The Oxford University academic Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian that emel “not only informs wider society about Muslims, but also makes a point about wider society itself.”

Emel is for the reader who wishes to combine an ethical outlook to life with evolving ideas and modern lifestyle. Emel has quickly gained credibility as a source of information, inspiration and debate.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Apology

I am sorry I have not posted anything in a few weeks. I have wanted to write some things but I have been very busy. I may be busy for the next couple of weeks but I will be posting something new soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Finding Will


After my three year accident anniversary, I decided to message a friend of mine. He was my roommate in the hospital and we occasionally exchanged Facebook messages and kept in touch about what was going on in each other’s lives. I had been caught up with med school and I hadn’t heard from him in a while, so I decided to send him a message saying, “It’s been threen years for us. How do you feel?”

Whenever someone says something nice to me, I am so thankful and I am not sure how to respond. I have thought about writing posts about the people who have had a positive influence on me. Let’s start with Will Archibald. Some of you who visited me in the hospital may remember him.

I spent two weeks in the traumatic brain injury (TBI) unit of the Shepherd Center before they decided that I seemed competent enough to be moved one floor up to the dual traumatic brain injury/spinal cord injury (TBI/SCI) unit, provided that I continue seeing a neuropsychologist and speech therapist.  I went from having my own room on the TBI floor to sharing a room with someone else on the TBI/SCI floor.  My friends and family weren’t too happy about this at first, but we were greeted by a big smile by a blonde-haired guy just a couple of years older than me.

Those first couple of weeks of having to wake up early every morning, realizing this is isn’t all just a dream, and then going down the hall for a long day of physical/occupational/speech therapy were rough.  But Will never stopped smiling.  I was lazy at first when it came to therapy. I would just go through the motions and look forward for it to be over so I could go back to my room and hang out with any visitors that came by. I always had many visitors every day, including my mom and my two best friends who were there almost 24/7, but Will was from up north, so he didn’t have any visitors while I was there—not even his family members. So he talked to me.

I was surprised to see how hard Will worked in therapy.  My best friends were shocked too and told me I should be more like him, for I had no desire to do anything except lie in bed and talk to friends or nap with a blanket over my head (sometimes at the same time, as seen here). But Will pushed himself. When he was doing certain exercises with weights, I saw him ask the therapist to add more weight. I can’t exactly remember the inspiring things he would say to me, but my two best friends did and they would repeat it back to me whenever they wanted me to push harder. He soon got movement back in one of his toes, so this was proof that anything was possible.

Will was in an accident just a little while before I arrived there. He was riding his motorcycle with his backpack on and one of the straps from his backpack somehow got caught on a stop sign as he was riding by, lifting him up and slamming him. He too had to he wear a neck brace and chest brace for a while to stabilize the cervical and thoracic vertebrae, respectively, and prevent further damage to the spinal cord. But those had been removed by the time I met him. He told me how even after they remove the chest brace, the digging pain will still be there for a while.  I stayed in the hospital for another two months after he was discharged and then continued coming back there from home for some time afterwards, so Will and I kept in touch with occasional Facebook messages.

My friends and I considered him like an experienced older brother or teacher to me, so I always questioned him with different things. I said something to him once when I went back to therapy and his reply showed me that no matter how hard something seems, other people have it worse, so we have to do the absolute best we can with what we are blessed with:  I know what you mean about the attitude you show on the outside versus what you are really feeling on the inside. As we both know the situation we are in plain sucks, but the thing that kept me going was seeing quads (quadriplegics). We have it hard don't get me wrong, but imagine being in there shoes with no use of arms or hands sheesh. When I looked around and saw they were working hard and the attitudes they showed I thought to myself. I can do it if they can. It wont be easy, but I will work hard and be positive.

Will didn’t stop working hard. Eventually, he got leg braces and learned how to ambulate with those using whatever muscles he could use. He told me how incredibly hard that was, but of course was always positive:  Nothing has changed with me, but this other patient who goes to therapy when I go just started to be able to move his leg and he is a year out. Its hard not to compare yourself to others because every injury is so different, but it sorta gives me some hope of movement. At the same time too it makes me think that everyday that goes by something will change. When I wake up every morning I still try and see if anything is different and it never is. I still try though. Who knows if things ever will. I'm not stuck on beleiving things will, but I still try and put a good effort towards trying.

I went from being lazy for a little while in the hospital to pushing myself to the limit, thanks to Will and my family and best friends. When Will complimented me and was proud of me for going to med school, that meant more than the compliments from my other friends. Will and I went through almost the same things. He kept up with my blog and told me it was “awesome” and it seemed like he even looked up to me. Words can’t describe how it feels when someone who was your hero starts admiring/complimenting you.

Will sent me this message one time with his frustrations upon making the decision to go back to school too:  I have just come to this feeling about being so overwhelmed I don't even know where to begin. I don't know what it is but the smallest things I have such a hard time dealing with now and it drives me mad. I try and not blame it on the brain injury, but is it the problem? What are your thoughts on this. I mean I did follow up neuro psych testing and everything was normal so it should not be an issue

“You’re the man for going through with med school. Congrats again and all the power to you,” he said to me in a recent message.When I read that, I did feel like the man.

I just got on Facebook and noticed that I received a reply from him. I smiled. I knew I had to study but it would be good to hear from an old friend of mine. 

It wasn’t Will. It was his sister. Will passed away a few months ago, she told me, unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism. My hero was gone. The person who greatly inspired me to work hard at a time when I was the weakest and most vulnerable was gone. We had shared the same experiences, and he was gone.

My best friends joke that I’m abnormal in that I do not cry. I have been through a lot of things since my accident, as can be expected, but I actually never really cried. The last time I remember crying was when I was a little kid. I had accepted the fact that I was unable to cry, and I kept this as a secret so people wouldn’t think I was insane or mentally unstable.

For the first time in a long, long time, I cried tonight.



Update #1:  I just remembered I posted this note and this awesome video of Will back in March 2010. It's well worth the few minutes to watch:
http://mindofhammad.blogspot.com/2010/03/wills-video.html
Update #2:  I just watched a little bit of the video again and I realize I got some of the facts in this post wrong. Oh, and I forgot that Will got into an accident while on his way home on Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New article about me: "From Patient to Doctor: Life Rolls On"

Thank you, Chelsea Toledo, for this great piece!  Very well written.

http://www.medschoolproject.com/2012/05/18/hammad-aslam-moving-forward/#more-608

7/19/12
Note: this is same article (with just a few changes) and video that is in Georgia Health News, which you may have already read here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's already been 3 years?!


My, my, the time has come.  It's been three years since the date of my accident.

A few weeks ago, I was a little uneasy.  Actually, the past year has been strange for me.  I sit here uncomfortably now, as if someone is watching me.

Three years.

Someone the other day was raining questions on me regarding my accident and disability.  That hasn't happened to me in a while.  I almost never mind talking about things, except when the person questioning me is significantly older and is asking uneasy questions—like "if there's any hope" and things like that.

Sometimes, when I am thinking back to a memory from years ago (e.g., visiting certain places), I catch myself thinking about it from the viewpoint of the wheelchair.  “How did I get around?” I wonder.  Then I quickly realize that when I did that thing or went to that place, I didn’t have any physical disabilities.  Then I try to picture those things from the viewpoint of standing/walking.  I find that increasingly difficult.

Anyone who knows me knows that I never really get truly sad, upset, annoyed, or angry over anything.  There is too must beauty and too much to be thankful for to let any of that get in the way of enjoying each and every moment.

But maybe that’s what it is.  Maybe that’s why I feel so uneasy.

I remember the first time I had a dream where I was in a wheelchair.  For the longest time, my dreams at night would be of various things, but I would always be fully able-bodied in them.  It’s only over this past year that I had a few dreams where things seemed to not be normal or that I was in a wheelchair.

A few other times, I have had dreams of me standing, walking, and doing different things and I woke up with a strange feeling of emptiness.  Perhaps this feeling is akin to an amputee who loses a limb, or a mother who loses a child in the womb.  These dreams were simple.  One dream was of me wearing boots and kicking down a door for some reason.  I woke up thinking about how I miss wearing boots.  I had bought brand new black Rockport boots right before my accident, wore them maybe once, and then just gave them to my brother after my accident.  I would just look goofy in them now, for I have no real use for boots.  Another dream was just of me doing handstands.  I used to love doing handstands whenever there was an open space in front of me.  It’s the little things.

As I've said in more recent posts, I’ve changed a lot over this past year.  I have come to really value time.  I know people say this, but do they really?  Every moment we spend not pleased with our current state of affairs is a moment wasted.  I have always felt like this to a certain extent, and that’s why I’ve always been thankful and have never let myself or others stay upset.  But I feel like this past year has taken everything to a new level.   Now I find peace in everything.  Even when troubles came into my life a few times, I simply accepted them, dealt with them and learned from them.

If something hits you, you take the hit and keep going.  Why waste any moment feeling negative when we can just as easily smile? 

Time has passed by quickly, perhaps a little too quickly.  I know I can never relive those exact memories I made before and that the future holds new memories to be made—but what kind of memories?  I was completely different for most of my life, and now three years have passed by like this.  I have made great strides these past three years but I am unsure of who I will become.

When I see someone running, I remember what it was like to have my legs pounding the pavement and my lungs gasping for air.  When I go to the gym, I remember what it feels like having every muscle in my legs, back, and neck tense up as I deadlift the weight off the floor.  When I go to a friend's home, I remember what it was like to run upstairs or downstairs to see them.  When I see photos of people at the beach, I remember playing in the water, jumping over the waves, and walking barefoot through the sand.

I don't want to forget these simple things, even if they are bittersweet.

I never thought I would have made it three years like this.  Three years of paralysis and two years of medical school have passed.  Sometimes it doesn't seem that long at all.  Other times it seems like it has been forever.  It sometimes feels like I have lived two lives:  one life has passed away, and another one has started.  Now as each valuable moment passes by, I find myself experiencing them as I bear these disabilities.

And I shall continue smiling and valuing these moments.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tubes and stuff


As someone on Facebook commented, the lion and I have the same hair.

Last week we learned a few different medical procedures in preparation for our third year in the hospitals while on medical rotations. As I learned about why and how to insert a nasogastric tube into a patient, a few memories came back and things that I had experienced in the past started to make sense.

I have been told my family and friends that immediately after my accident, I had a multitude of tubes attached to my body.  As I awoke but was still in a daze, I kept trying to pull the tubes out, so the nurses strapped my arms down and severely tightened the mask on my face.  The scars that the mask left were visible on my face for over a year.  One of my good friends said that I seemed very uncomfortable being strapped to a bed, so she told me that she would loosen them up as long as I didn’t try to remove my tubes or make it obvious that she had liberated me when the nurses were around.  Although I didn’t know what I was doing or how I agreed, I obeyed her guidelines after she loosened the straps for me.

After I was moved to the Shepherd Center, I finally regained conscious awareness of my surroundings.  Why were all these tubes in my mouth and nose?  I had no idea.  I remember the medical team took out a few of the tubes fairly early.  They removed the last tube after a few days.  I believe one of them was a nasogastric tube—a tube that is inserted through the nose and ends at the top of the stomach for feeding purposes.  Removing that was not a pleasant experience.

I can’t remember if it was before the tube was removed or after that I had tape on my nose.  I remember seeing it in the mirror after I regained consciousness and thinking that my nose had broken in the accident, too.  “It’s okay, I’ll just get plastic surgery,” I told my mom and my friends.  They had no idea what I was talking about.  I remember thinking I looked like a chicken.  I kept picturing a strange cartoon chicken with a white puffy nose.  It only recently occurred to me as I remembered that period that what I had mistaken for a “chicken nose” was probably just tape that was there to secure one of the tubes.

While we were learning these procedures last week, I also thought about how I wasn’t able to breathe properly during the initial weeks of regaining consciousness.  My punctured lungs as well as possible irritation due to the tubes made my voice raspy and I was only able to speak a couple of words at a time before I would have to take deep breaths to breathe properly.  “I sound like the Dark Knight,” I kept telling my friends, referring to Batman’s hoarse voice in The Dark Knight.  Later on, my friend told me that because I sometimes had to take breaths between each word, he thought I sounded like Stevie, the asthmatic boy from Malcolm in the Middle, instead.  I still tried to make all my visitors in the hospital feel welcome and talked to them as much as I could when they would come by because I appreciated their thoughtfulness.

After the tubes were taken out from my mouth and nose, the next things to be removed from my body were the staples from my neck.  The staples that had been put in to close off gaping lacerations in my lower head and neck pulled on my skin and hurt me whenever I slept.  I woke up every morning with blood on the pillow.  I asked my nurses when they would be taken out and they were surprised that I still had them in me.  This went on for about a week.  The morning the staples were to be removed, a nurse applied a local anesthetic that would take effect in one hour.  By the time the doctor got around to seeing me, it was already sometime in the mid to late afternoon.  The anesthetic had worn off.  I held my cousin’s hand tightly as I explicitly felt the doctor remove each staple.  For this reason, I became wary of anyone coming close to my neck and I got in the habit of cutting my own hair, which I still do.

I still had the neck brace and the chest brace that had to be removed.  They dug into my skin throughout the day and gave me a lot of pain, no matter if I was moving or sitting still.  But it would take another month and a half to two months before I was allowed to remove those.

I am not sure why I remembered these things all of a sudden.  It’s been a while since I thought about them.  But as I said in an earlier post, I think it’s good to not forget these in order to gain perspective.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New video + a thoughtful blog post

This morning, I told myself that I needed to write a post about how I haven't posted anything in a while and that the next couple of months may not produce many new posts.  We have our big medical board exam, the USMLE Step 1, this summer so I will be--or at least should be--busy preparing for that.

During the day, I received an extremely nice email with a few links. One of them was a new video with parts of the interview I did last month.  The other link was to the blog post by the creator of the video.  I was very touched by what she had to say in her own recent blog post, which you can read here.  Thank you, Chelsea, for the heartfelt words.

The video and a few others were screened today during a thank you lunch that my med school had with the Health & Medical Journalism program of Grady College of the University of Georgia.  This video can be seen here:
http://youtu.be/OewpIQCY_Go


The previous video from fall 2010 can be seen here:
http://youtu.be/RRx7vr8RNgY

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Still.

[I'll go ahead and apologize for this post being dumb and how it seems to repeat things I've already said before.  I was just frustrated when I wrote this.  It only describes a very, very small fraction of what I was thinking.]

Still.

I was being interviewed for something today, and when the camera was briefly turned off and the interviewer was about to pack up, I decided to let down my guard.  I was all smiles before that moment, as I almost always am.  Even as I discussed the true state of the last two years, I continued to smile and spoke of it as if I was summarizing a book I had just read.

“These past two years haven’t been all smooth sailing for me.  I’m not sure if you are aware of this or not, but I also suffered a traumatic brain injury at the time of my accident,” I said and discussed the extent of the injury for a few minutes.  This is not something anyone can physically see. 

“During my first year of medical school, of course there were times when I questioned if I should be there or not, if I was going to make it or not.  Somehow I made it,” I continued.  “There were times when I was really depressed.  It was as if everything I had ever known was gone.  I was a completely different person now.  My mind worked completely different.  I didn’t how to handle it.”  I know everyone has experienced working hard and not having the results to reflect the effort, but I don’t know too many people who can say that they would have been able to get results before an unexpected incident occurred in their life.  That now, they will have to relearn how to learn, relearn how to function, and relearn how thrive.  It was like being born again.   The frustration that came with this was almost unbearable.  “Why can’t I just be normal, or at least the way I used to be,” I would ask myself.

I continued, “Second year, I was much more relaxed.  But again, in the beginning, I was struggling.  So I finally decided to get myself checked out to see what exactly was going on.  It turns out, I wasn’t dumb.  I mean, I wouldn’t be surviving medical school if I was dumb.  I scored fairly well on all sections of the neuropsychological tests, but still there was something lacking.  I had to make more changes.  I took the recommendations that were given to me by the neuropsychologist, and now, I am seeing progress.”

I realize that I have mentioned this all on here before, but I don’t think I can truly express these thoughts in a way that can be fully understood.

Still.  After so long, there are still some things that make me ask, “Is this real?”

I was watching a video of myself today and I couldn’t help but feel… somewhat embarrassed.  That’s what happens when I see photos or videos of myself:  I get to see myself in the way others see me.  Do people even remember what I looked like standing, walking, running, exercising, and being crazy?  I know I have a real hard time remembering.  A lot of people I talk to now, including all my classmates, only know this current state.

I recently made another new friend and I realized I am embarrassed of my disability around her.  Although I think I have a feeling I know why, I still do not like this friend seeing me transfer off and on my wheelchair from different places.  I am also embarrassed by how skinny my legs have become.  I saw my legs in the video of myself that I watched, and I was disgusted.  I remember I used to do heavy squats and deadlifts because my relatively small frame and years of running left me with fairly thin legs, but my current state is enough to leave me self-conscious.  Wearing shorts all day and stopping by the gym whenever I take a break from studying is something that will have to be postponed for a while.

Who have I become?

I had many plans for my life.  We all know life doesn’t always go as planned, but I wish there was a way I could have anticipated this.  I know everything I have ever experienced has prepared me, but now, like everyone else, I just wish I knew what the future will have in store for me.

Will there be more turmoil?  Will more things be thrown at me?

I have to remind myself that this is who I am.  This is who I have become.  There is no way to reverse time.  Everything in the past has passed, never to return again.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Making grand plans for it


So in the end, was it worth it? Jesus Christ. How irreparably changed my life has become. It's always the last day of summer and I've been left out in the cold with no door to get back in. I'll grant you I've had more than my share of poignant moments. Life passes most people by while they're making grand plans for it. Throughout my lifetime, I've left pieces of my heart here and there. And now, there's almost not enough to stay alive. But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent. There are no more white horses or pretty ladies at my door.
         -Blow

I sometimes think about how much my thoughts, views, and actions have changed since the start of my predicament.  Well, more than those is just the change in feelings I have had.

Over time, I have become incredibly used to things.  Things are no longer out of the ordinary and I’m not self-conscious about people viewing me strangely anymore.  I honestly don’t feel any different from anyone else.

But occasionally, I am given reminders.  Someone will say something to me that really knocks me flat.  When I am reminded of how different I am from everyone else and how adjustments have been made and will have to be made, and how much it not only affects me, but other people as well, it is indeed a setback.  “How irreparably changed my life has become,” and the rest of the above quote goes through my mind.

The truth is:  yes, I am different.  I am not like “normal” people.  I can’t do some things and I have to do other things in a slightly different way.

So, does writing that make me feel strange or exposed for who I really am?

No, no it does not.

Almost exactly 2 years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Compensate ”.  In it, I describe how because I cannot do certain things like others, I must compensate in other areas of my life.  For example, I am living completely alone and going to medical school and working 3x harder than most people I know just to sort of “prove myself” to the naysayers and doubters.

Although I still feel like I have to compensate and work harder just to be treated a certain way, my views have slightly shifted.

Changes happen.

Obstacles come up.

For some people, they are large, and for others, they seem almost petty.

The early 20th century lawyer Clarence Darrow said it best, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.”

Things have happened.  I am different.  There is no avoiding the obvious.

In poker, when we are dealt a certain set of cards, we have the choice to either fold the hand or keep playing.

Keep playing.

Some people expect peace of mind and happiness to be a destination.  “I can’t be happy with this in the way.  I have this thing going on. Other people don’t have to deal with it,” they may say. They really wish and pray that a certain thing will happen—whatever it is—so they can be happy. 

Things in life don’t always happen as we expect. I never would have guessed I would be like this and be where I am now. Like everyone, I also sometimes feel like nothing in life is going my way.

“But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent,” I have to say to myself, repeating the quote from above.

Do not ever wish for so much that you stop being thankful for what you have.  Do not wish for different circumstances.  The ones you have are good enough.  Find peace in this, for finding peace when you have nothing is better than chaos when you have something.

As Clarence Darrow said, it is the one most adaptable to change that survives.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Let it in

I was reading some of the things that political candidates, journalists, and news broadcasters have said recently on various topics and all I could do was shake my head.

It surprises and saddens me how easy it is that people are united under the banner of ignorance, intolerance and/or hate.

Is anger really a much stronger emotion than love?

I can take my case as an example. As I have mentioned before, people who have lived lives able-bodied and are then confined by a disability may be hot-headed and angry. They lash out at spouses, parents, children, friends, strangers, and God.
Why is this happening to me?
Why me, God?
You people will never understand what I am going through.
You will never know what it's like.
You all live such happy lives.
I’m sick of not being able to do things.
This is so emasculating.
Stop your whining
.
Those are just some of the things that people may think, say and believe.

Likely, on a much broader scale, when the nation was in economic turmoil and the morale of the people very low, Hitler was able to unite people through intolerance and hate. I also have to shake my head when I see how history repeats itself over and over again and how people are so blind to it.

As a friend in my class said to me once, "People always need someone to hate. Right now, it’s the Muslims and the homosexuals." 25 years ago, it was the Russians. Before that, it was the Communists. Tomorrow, it’ll be someone else.

Society is so easily brainwashed into hating a fellow human being that the most primal, animalistic emotions are expressed, even by those who are considered “educated”.

Anyways, I could go on and on about intolerance in society and how futile and childish (yet very effective in motivating masses of people) it is, but I want go in lightly different direction that I have touched on before.

Why do we even have hate?
Why do we talk bad about others?
Why do we consider ourselves better than other people?
Why do we stress?
Why can’t we accept circumstances, no matter how different they are, and carry on?


We may feel like those things empower us and drive us, but they enslave us. They control us. Even simple things that everyone feels—stress and/or worry—can and will control us.

Stop blaming other people. Stop blaming God. Stop blaming yourself.

Even the toughest situations—like a traumatic brain injury, a complete spinal cord injury, intense pain, endless adaptations and reminders of how unusual you are and what you can’t do, insecurities, emotions of others, betrayals, intolerance because you are different, and more—will all be just a simple, cool breeze.

Relax. Stop fearing. Stop worrying. Stop stressing.

Open your heart. Let love in.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Novelty no more

This spring break, I had the pleasure of making some cool new friends. That’s always nice.

One of them sent me a message a few days later that started with these exact words: When I first met you, as crazy as this sounds, I didn't really notice that you were in a wheelchair... I mean not literally speaking... I saw you in it, but I didn't get that “I’m different” vibe at all.

Earlier that day, I also had a talk in front of a sizable audience where I described different situations and had the audience give input on potential appropriate/inappropriate reactions. It wasn’t until the very end of the Q&A session at the end of my talk that someone even asked about my wheelchair or my situation.

After the new friend asked me several more questions, I started pondering her initial statement and our encounter. I replayed in my head the other recent friendships that have developed and my various interactions.

I remember when the wheelchair was still new for me (and my friends/family), I felt pretty awkward—and I don’t mean the awkward feeling I enjoy making other people feel. I just always felt that people were watching me and judging me when I was out at places. A friend tried telling me that I was probably just being a little paranoid, but I disagreed with him at the time.Thinking back to the things I said and did the year after my accident while in the hospital and at home and even during my first year of medical school, I’m kind of embarrassed.

When I think back to things that happened years ago before my accident, I always imagine them from the viewpoint of the wheelchair, for some odd reason.

Is this who I've become?

One employee in the hospital who had been in a wheelchair for many years told us about meeting new people and said, “My wheelchair is the least interesting thing about me.” I remember when she said that, I scoffed and thought she was just being super optimistic. “Come on, that can’t be true,” I thought.

But if you ask me now, I’ll tell you that she’s right. I’m not sure if it’s because I have gotten used to this and have just stopped feeling awkward and self-conscious, or that people—not just my friends—have stopped noticing me as being different. I can definitely see that my classmates and faculty members don’t see me as being different anymore. The fact that I feel new people don’t see me as being out of the ordinary may be due to a combination of my changed perceptions and their views when they see me.

I feel like the “novelty” of being a wheelchair has worn off. I’m not “that guy” anymore.

Is this why funding for spinal cord injury research is always lacking—because it’s not as flashy, in-your-face noticeable anymore? I mean, it’s not AIDS or cancer, but it still completely changes the lives of 11,000 new people in the United States each year(1).

People see the injury’s physical manifestations, but they don’t see the struggle. They don’t see the adaptations. They don’t see the sacrifices.

After all this time, I guess now I’m just me; I’m just Hammad. I’m not the “Hammad who’s in a wheelchair”. Well, I don’t know about other people, but at least I think of myself as “just Hammad” without any strings attached.


1. Spinal Cord Injury Information Pages. Last updated 02/14/2012. Accessed 03/17/2012.http://www.sci-info-pages.com/facts.html.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Do You Realize?

Do you realize – that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize – we're floating in space
Do you realize – that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize – that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
-The Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize”

I know I haven’t posted anything in a long, long time. I have wanted to, but I just can’t find the right words.

I feel like I have been going through a sort of mini-“midlife crisis”. I put those words in quotes because that’s typically something that happens to people when they are much older. I think I have mentioned before, though, that at times, I feel much older than I actually am. It is as if the accident added several extra years onto my life. That period when I was in the hospital and afterwards at home really wasn’t that long, but it was a time when everything in my life seemed completely out of my control. So it feels like forever. It’s as if I fell asleep, went into a coma, and woke up years and years later.

Isn’t it interesting how two people can read the same thing, watch the same movie, or experience the same event and one may be profoundly affected by it while the other gets nothing out of it? Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by that.

I am not sure how to describe the many things that I have been thinking about and that leave me entranced. At times, some things I have contemplated have even left me deeply saddened. Other times, it makes me want to make some serious changes—changes in the way I live my life, changes in the way I interact with others, changes in the things I say or I do, and more. Probably the big overarching theme of everything I have been thinking about is time.

A combination of things made me start thinking about these things, including illnesses befallen upon those close to me, questions from a new friend regarding my disability, decisions on what I want to do in my future, patients I’ve met in the hospital, and even movies/television shows I have seen that just happen to strike a chord in me.

What are you doing right now? Are you happy?

Are you surrounding yourself with people that make you happy? Really?

You don’t want to wake up some years from now when you are having a real midlife crisis and ask yourself what you’ve done with your life, why you have that job, if it was worth it working so hard and neglecting your happiness and friendships when you had time, why you’re with that person, why you didn’t appreciate your parents when you had the opportunity—why you made every decision in your life. What will you do when the people closest to you have gone? What do you think they would say to you if they had just one last thing to say? Even more important, what would you tell yourself or other people if you had just one last thing to say?

You don’t want to be lying in a bed, thinking about how in order to get up and do what you want, you’re going to have to transfer on to a wheelchair, and be asking yourself, “Is this it? Is this my future? I can never get back those years I had running and playing? I can never go back? There’s no reset button?”

Value time. Each moment that goes by is a moment that can never be re-experienced. Every negative thing that we bring upon ourselves by the choices we make or the things we say is an insult upon what we have. Every minute you are doing something that doesn’t make you happy is a minute that can never be changed.

Here, try this: stop reading this and just stare at the clock for five minutes. Do it. Come on. It’s just five minutes. Then finish reading the post.



Didn’t that feel like forever? That’s five minutes you could have spent doing other things, but now you will never get back. If you actually did this, I apologize for asking you to do it. It was just to make a point. In the words of Mark Zimmerman, “Killing time is a subtle form of suicide.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thank you.

There have been a few things that I have wanted to mention for a long time but have not done so yet.

I would like to say thank you. I cannot begin to express my gratitude and appreciation for my family, friends, and people I don't even know who have been there for me.

I am very bad when it comes to reacting to kind words and support. When someone says something nice to me, I get awkward and say thank you and I may tell them how much it means to me. But I feel like that does not express how I feel. I really appreciate the nice things people say to me in real life or in comments. I am 110% undeserving of such kindness and compliments. These are all so incredibly encouraging and they mean so much to me. Each and every message, each and every word, each and every smile that I receive touches me in a unique way. I do not know what I do or have done to deserve such benevolence.

I also want to mention the purpose of my writings. This blog was simply started because I had written something for another web site that did not really take off, and I wanted a place to put what I had written. I had a friend help me edit the piece (which you can read here) and I was never a good writer, so I was actually pretty happy at how "official" something I had written turned out. After the first couple posts, people told me they liked it and wanted me to keep writing. I never thought people would actually be interested in the stupid stuff that goes through my mind.

For myself, this was and is very therapeutic. Writing out one's thoughts is like taking a look at things from a third person point of view. In addition, writing and the feedback and encouragement I receive has played a large part in my mental/emotional growth and progression.

So, once again, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being here for me. Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving me encouragement. You may never realize the real effect you have on me. But it's possible that I may not be where I am today if it was not for you. I love you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Help!

[Once again, I apologize for not posting in a long time. Things with school and at home have been quite busy, as some of you know.]

I was listening to NPR on my way back to my apartment a few weeks ago. The host was interviewing someone who was talking about her disability.

The young woman being interviewed had some sort of progressive nervous system disorder, perhaps multiple sclerosis. The woman was married and seemed to be in her thirties. She described different scenarios caused by her disability, such as how there were times that she was so weak, her husband had to literally drag her up the stairs to bed.

Then she got on the topic of asking for help. She said how it was so embarrassing—so disheartening—to have to ask someone for some assistance. She did not like it at all when she had to ask for help or when someone asked if she needed help. Getting help from someone else was a crutch, in both the literal and figurative sense. She described it as something that breaks her spirit. She seemed to be speaking on behalf of people with disabilities, and she contended that having to rely on someone else to help you with something you previously were able to do was something that would destroy your morale. Your strength. Your character.

I have heard about people in wheelchairs not liking it when they are offered help. I mean, we can do things. Some find it offensive that others think we are unable to do simple things like get into a car or open doors on our own.

I can see why other people with disabilities are upset about this, but I don’t really agree with it.

I actually really appreciate it when people ask me if I need help with something. If someone who doesn't know me walks by without offering help while I am putting my chair into my car, I am kind of surprised. I almost always kindly smile and kindly decline help anyways, but I do appreciate offers. It continues to show me how there are so many kind-hearted people in this world. I made previous posts about these sort of actions here and here.

I was telling a friend the other day how seeing a guy in a wheelchair brings out the hometown hero in people. Even the roughest guys who look like they would attack you if you looked at them the wrong way turn into Southern gentleman as they open doors and ask me how I am doing.

Do I get offended when people offer to do things for me? Am I ashamed to ask people for help?

In short: no.

Admittedly, it was hard for me to ask people for things at first. Even now, I do not really ask people for everyday things. I mean, I get by pretty well living on my own.

But sometimes I do not hesitate to ask strangers or friends for help. In fact, I actually enjoy it. Let me explain myself before you think I crave power and like watching other people do things for me.

I’m sure most people have felt pleasure and an increase in their own self worth when they go out of their way to help others. Even people who don’t normally like doing thing for others feel a sense of accomplishment as they subconsciously tell themselves that they used their “precious time” to help someone “inferior” or “unworthy” of their time.

So I let people help me. If I am about to do something and someone offers to help me, I usually smile and decline, but I sometimes smile and show my utmost appreciation. I want people to walk away feeling like they did something positive that day.

Many times it seems like we decline help or refuse to ask for help because our own ego gets in the way. “No, I got it. I can do this on my own.” How many times have we said that? I know I say it all the time. But perhaps we need to spread some love and some good feelings around and let people help us. We shouldn't take advantage of anyone, but we need to let people know that they can help people; that they have something—some talent, strength, piece of knowledge, or connection—that we do not have.

Let others know that they are worth it, that they can do some things better, faster or more efficiently than us, and that sometimes we need them.

They need that, too.


[This just touched the tip of what I have really been thinking about lately. A second installment will come soon.]