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.