Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Acceptance: the final stage

This post is long overdue. I have wanted to write this for quite a long time, as can be seen by how long ago I wrote Stages Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. I did not know where to start so I avoided it or told myself I would write when I had time to relax. I still do not know where to start or what to say and I have a few other things I really need to do, but I shall write. I do almost all my writing in one sitting and when I speak, I almost never have things prepared. That ensures that everything I write and speak about comes from the heart.


Acceptance is the last stage in Kübler Ross’s model of the stages of grief that one goes through in dealing with something tragic or traumatic.

There were many times when I thought I had accepted things. I was okay. I was not angry. I didn’t curse the heavens. I was not bitter. If you have kept up with my blog from the beginning, you will see that that is true. I have been put in difficult circumstances but it is in these circumstances that I carry on with my life.

It is in these circumstances that I have found peace.

It is in these circumstances that I have found purpose.

Acceptance of my disability was not as straightforward as I thought it would be. First, I had to accept my own mortality.

I almost died. That phrase gets thrown around a lot by many people, but in my case, I really was just a few inches or a few breaths away from leaving this life. I am not sure what impression I would have left upon this earth if I had passed away four and a half years ago.

As many of you know, I moved out of my family’s home to my own apartment in a different city and started medical school one year after my accident. “I am ready,” I thought. I was hit with reality once classes started.

I had to adapt to living on my own. Life was different. Things took longer for me to do. I could not relive many of the memories I had made in Athens. Needless to say, medical school classes were a lot tougher than I had imagined.

“You cannot compare yourself to others,” a friend said to me after I told him how I was having a hard time. “You are different than all of them. In addition to overcoming the challenges and rigors of medical school classes, you also have a lot more to deal with. You had a significant injury and became completely paralyzed just a year ago. That alone is more than enough. That alone is more than most people can deal with.”

That consoled me a bit. I am not one to back down from a challenge and I knew this would be difficult. But just like I was blindsided by this injury, I was blindsided with what to expect. I carried on with my life by moving out and starting medical school as soon as I could not only for myself, but for everyone else. I knew I could do what I wanted to do. As I have said before, I am stubborn. But others did not believe that I could do what I wanted to do. This is not to say that other people did not support me in my endeavors. They just did not expect much of me. I knew, however, that in order for me to be considered an equal to the general population once again, their expectations of me would be much higher and that I would forever have to prove myself.

All through my first year of medical school, I worked hard. I pushed through any all obstacles. There were times when I fell onto the floor with no one to help me. There were times when I was depressed. There were times when I was frustrated with everything.

One Friday night, after receiving a harsh score on an exam, I found myself dead tired but unable to sleep. “What am I doing?” I asked myself. “I should not even be alive. I am living on borrowed time.” In my frustration, I came to an interesting realization:  I was not happy. I mean, I was outwardly happy as far as people could tell, but I was not living a life of peace and fulfilment. I spent every day studying. I spent most nights either studying or worrying about classes. I was not spending time with my friends or enjoying life. I could have died. I can die any day. All of us can die any day. So I asked myself, “Suppose I was told that I would only live for a few more months or a few more years. Is this how I would want to live life?”

That question, with all the thoughts and musings that came along with it, was a big turning point in my life.

I thought a lot about death. I saw a lot of sickness and death in the hospitals.

I accepted my mortality.

Next, I had to accept my life.

To be honest, I am not sure when or how that happened. As I said earlier in this post, I thought I had accepted things from the beginning. It was not until much later that I realized that that was not the case, though I knew from the beginning that I was different and that things would always be different for me. After I accepted my own mortality and the fragility of all of our lives, things seem to just fall into place.

In the summer between my first and second year of medical school, I underwent a sort of “enlightenment,” so to speak. I took a break from studying and the fast pace, goal-directed life of which we seem to all be a part. I spent a lot of time by myself in my apartment. I read for pleasure. I watched movies. I listened and I learned. Everywhere around me, there were things I had never noticed. In each moment, in each movement, in each breath, I was there.

As John Steinbeck wrote in The Winter of Discontent, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.” From then on, I made sure to truly “see” everyone.

I moved on to my third year post-injury and my second year in medical school as a different person. My eyes were finally open.

During my second and third year of medical school, I found immense joy in everything that I did. I really loved being in medical school and doing everything that I was doing, especially interacting with patients. Learning things had a purpose for me. I could use everything I had learned to help someone else.

I overcame my insecurities and overcame my fear. I moved past thinking of myself as different from everyone else and knew in heart that I was the same as everyone else.

I am not sure how it happened, but it happened. How did I know I had accepted things?

I knew I was in a better place when I finally realized that I was genuinely happy and at peace with what I was doing and what I intended to do. I intended to take care of others. I had already affected and helped others in many ways over these past few years, but this realization was different.

When I accepted my life, I accepted one thing:  in everything I do, I will do my best to ease the suffering of others and I want each and every person I come in contact with to be better than me. I want them to progress and to be healed. I myself am paralyzed and have to live in a wheelchair but nothing would make me happier than to see others at peace with themselves. I would gladly volunteer to take the suffering of others upon myself.

I can now say that I have not only accepted by disability, I am thankful for my disability.

“'The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Stages, part 3 (finally!)

I have been itching to write for quite some time now. A brief recap of what I have been doing: after completing the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) Step 2 in late August, I spent this past September doing an elective rotation at the Shepherd Center—the same place where I spent about three months as an inpatient after my accident in the summer of 2009. Being there brought back a lot of memories about which I could write plenty, but right now I want to write about something that I have intended to write about since I wrote “Stages” and “Stages, part 2: Anger” months ago.

As I said in the post “Stages”, the Kübler-Ross model’s five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I wrote about stage one, denial, and stage two, anger, already in the two posts linked above. Tonight, I will write about the next few stages.

“If I could at least get something—anything—back, I will be thrilled. Please, God, give me something back,” I thought to myself and bargained with God more than once. I imagined what I would do and how I would tell people once I had recovered. I wanted to take a photo of myself standing and giving high fives to my two best friends who also spent their summer of 2009 with me in the hospital. I would make that photo my Facebook profile picture. Maybe I would not be able to walk perfectly and I would have to use a cane. I would buy myself the coolest looking cane. I would have the coolest stories to tell people while looking wise and holding my cane.

“Man, this is going to make the best personal statement,” a friend said to me as I lay in my hospital bed. He, too, believed that I would be out of the hospital soon and running again.

In the bargaining stage, people usually bargain with a higher power. I certainly did. I prayed and vowed that if I was healed, I would forever be in God’s debt. I would be a changed man and I would always be righteous. Little did I know at that time, this is what everyone goes through.

I thought I was doing everything right. I was 100% confident that everything would be okay. I would be completely healed. I did not think anymore that I would wake up one morning and suddenly be completely and miraculously healed, but I did think that I would one day discover that I could move a toe or feel the warm water running over my legs in the shower.

Throughout this time, though, I never allowed myself to truly be outwardly and noticeably sad. There were some difficult times through which I had to go during the over the course of the first year after my accident. If I was 100% healed, if I could walk again, then none of this would be happening. Everything would be okay and everything would be so much easier. I would get what I wanted and would not have to struggle.

But, as the Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

My family and friends were always looking to me for strength, instead of the opposite way around. So, rather than going through the typical fourth stage of grief, depression, I kept a smiling face. This does not mean I did not feel pain. As I wrote here, I did. But you could never tell.

As I was telling a close friend of mine and as many of you may have read if you have kept up with my blog since the beginning, my first year in medical school was a struggle. In addition to dealing with the rigors of a new medical college campus with a surprisingly more difficult curriculum than the main campus, I also had to deal with coming to terms with my disability and adapting to living alone once again.  Coming to terms with a something as big in one's life as a crippling disability is something that usually takes people many years. It was my choice to start medical school only one year after my injury. I did not want to waste more time and I did not want people to see me as more “disabled” than the disability I had already made me seem. So I carried on. Life was not stopping.

There came a time during my first year of medical school when I was struck with a strange yet honest realization. I spent most of my time studying. Even as things fell apart, things were not slowing down. I was not having fun. There was no time for fun. I realized that in all honesty and as morbid as this may seem, I could die soon. We all could.

So I asked myself, “If I knew I had one week to live, what would I be doing? Is this how I would want to spend it?”

I kept a smiling face. I looked at the bright side of things. I moved forward.

This is what I set out to do.

There are too many times we get locked in the third or fourth stage of grief, bargaining and depression. For some, this is a hole from which some never rise.

A turning point in my life came in the summer between my first and second year of medical school, the summer of 2011.

This post is getting fairly lengthy and I have not even concluded it properly yet. It is also time for me to go to sleep. For now, I will end it right here. I actually wanted to write about the fifth and last stage, acceptance, and I promise to do that very soon since I am eager to continue this. In the meantime, I provided many links above through which you can read and refresh your memory until then. And as a preview for the upcoming post and to see what place I was in at that time of change in the summer of 2011, here are two, more refreshing posts: “Clearing my mind” from August 2011 and “Balance” from September 2011.

I’ll leave you with a quote by one of my favorite writers, Chuck Palahniuk, that I actually made into an image and used as a wallpaper for my phone for the first year or two after my accident to give me strength: “It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Amazing commercial

Ignore the fact that this is a beer commercial and just focus on the message. It's beautiful.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Always remember this

As physicians and, more importantly, as humans, the message in this video is something we need to always keep in mind:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The common bond that we all share

[Note:  I started this ten days ago on July 7 and just finished it today.  That's why it starts off the way it does.]

I’m going to just write something quick since I have to get some things done tonight and get adequate sleep before going to the hospital tomorrow morning for my rotation in the intensive care unit.

Today, July 7, is my birthday.  Birthdays are almost never big or special for me.  I usually end up just relaxing by myself.  The only really festive birthday that I will truly never forget was my birthday in the hospital in 2009.

A friend surprised me today with a few gifts on my birthday.  Because we had only recently met, she did not know the full story and details of what happened the day of my accident, the immediate aftermath or the following two weeks I spent in the intensive care unit.  After about five or ten minutes of me talking, my friend was in tears.

The things I explained to her were told to me many times by my family and friends since I do not remember anything from that time.  The sights and sounds that were described to me seemed to mimic the things I witnessed while in the “doctor” point of view in the intensive care unit last week.

One of my patients last week was in a coma.  The first thing I noticed as I entered the room was the smell of sterile chemicals on a backdrop of the slight smell of human wastes.  It all smelled too familiar.  This previously healthy, very young patient was not responding to light touch or loud voices but would react to painful stimuli.  She had been unresponsive for several days.  I was able to speak with her very concerned mother and brother.  The patient’s brother was very protective of his sister and told his mother a few times that he wanted to go through his sister’s phone, in case she had been speaking to someone who may have given her illicit drugs that could have caused her current state.  At one point, I saw her brother whisper something to her and kiss her on the forehead.  The next day, the patient was able to open her eyes slightly and nod her head.  The following day, I was thrilled to see that she was sitting up and speaking, though her insight on her condition was a bit cloudy.

The experiences in the intensive care unit last week combined with my birthday and my telling to my friend about my experience as a patient all really made me once again appreciate the fragility of life.

The patient who was in the coma had been previously healthy.  I, too, had been previously healthy.  We both had family and friends that love us and were very concerned.  Both of us had been in a very uncertain condition.  We both also appeared and smelled in an embarrassing way that we wish no one else could have seen.

These days, I see patients who are on the brink of death.  Just a few days ago, I was in the room while a patient took his last breath.

Death is a subject about which I have a thought a considerable amount this past year.

It is also a subject that we do not really discuss.  But I said in my last post that I would continue to be honest and that is what I am doing.

Have we become desensitized to death?

When I’m in the hospitals, I regularly hear people talk about a patient passing away.  It is usually just an acknowledgement of the person’s passing and then the conversation changes to something else.

“Why don’t the newscasters cry when they talk about people who die? At least they could be decent enough to put just a tear in their eyes.”  - Jack Johnson, “The News”

This inattention to the gravity of death is surprising to me.  I understand how regularly seeing and hearing about people passing away may make us insensitive to it and we do not let it affect us.  But we must not allow this make us numb.

I am not sure how many of you watched my last talk at MIST but in there I discuss the pride that we all have.  We all seem to consider ourselves invincible.  Illnesses cannot fall upon us because, quite frankly, those things are for “sick people”.  They are for “the other people”.  Death comes to these “other people”.  We cannot imagine ourselves lying in bed with multiple tubes and wires connected to our body.  We cannot imagine that the doughnuts and ice cream we love to eat may give us diabetes and that if we are still reckless and do not manage that, our kidneys may fail, we may go blind or our feet may eventually have to be amputated.

We cannot imagine ourselves waking up in a hospital bed and being completely paralyzed.

No, those things cannot happen to us.  Those are simply academic things that we learn about in medical school or that we see in movies or read about in books.  There is a dramatic finish and the person lives on in the memories of others.  Those types of things do not happen to people like me.

I would explain this more but I feel like this page from The Death of Ivan Ilych by the 19th century Russian author Leo Tolstoy expresses this exceptionally well:

Death is something that is inevitable.  That is no surprise.  But then why does it surprise us?  Why do we shy away from this topic?

When we die, that’s it.  We are done.  There is no reset button.  There are no second chances.  A mere few years later, who we are and what we have done are completely forgotten.

Most of us never really think about this—and I mean really think about this.  What are we doing right now?  What does this exact moment mean to us?

You will never be as young as you were when I started this post.

The finality of our life is perhaps why it takes some people a few days before they can actually accept and properly grieve the loss of a loved one.  That person is gone.  They are never coming back.  I have so many memories of that person.  I can remember everything so vividly.  I remember the sound of their voice and the smell of their clothing.  I remember how they were so happy and surprised that one time.  I remember how sad they were another time.  If only I had another day to spend with that person, I would let them know how much they mean to me and how much I will miss them.  I never really let them know before and now it is too late.

We should not live our life in regret.

As I have said before:  love before it's too late.  Love before you lose.

The 6th century BCE Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote in his work Tao Te Ching in regards to a soldier going to war:  "His enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself. He doesn't wish them personal harm. Nor does he rejoice in victory. How could he rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral."

Media sources today are all disappointing.  We can only blame ourselves for that.  What happens when we hear about a school shooting or an attack when innocent people lost their lives, like in the recent Boston Marathon bombing?  The news sources focus on the killers.  Their photos are everywhere and the killers become household names.  Bluntly put, we glorify the killers.  We immortalize them.  This produces even more killers from psychologically disturbed and immature people who also seek their own version of glory.  And that is all we, as a society, talk about, too.

We do not focus on those who died.  We buy into the sensationalism and hysteria that is created and, in short, we let the killers and terrorists win as they become notorious and they cause us to live in fear.

The people who died become a number.  People, both locally and internationally, who die from diseases or attacks are not even given a second thought when we hear or read about them in the news.

We lose our humanity.

Each and every person we meet is just like us.  Every person around the world who dies is like us.  They, too, were once a child with joys, fears, insecurities and flaws.  They, too, knew friendship and betrayal.  They, too, knew love and heartbreak.  We all experience seemingly endless joy.  We all cry.  Our problems are not bigger than the problems of others.  Our pain is not any more special or significant than the pain of others.  It does not matter if we are rich or poor, atheist or Christian, educated or uneducated, a model citizen or a criminal.

We all want a second chance. 

We all wish we had more time.

Do not lose your humanity.  The next time you hear about someone—anyone—who is sick or dying, realize that that may have been us.  That person, or that group of people, lived, laughed, loved, feared, cried and experienced all the feelings we experience.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Article in London Link

I have been meaning to write another post but in the meantime, here is a little reading material! I am featured in the summer 2013 issue of London Link magazine. If it looks familiar, it's because it is the same interview that was on the Muslim Heroes web site.

The article can be read at:  http://issuu.com/londonlink/docs/llinkv3i4_web

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My talk at TEDxGeorgiaTech

I know I told you all a long time ago that I would post this video of me speaking TEDxGeorgiaTech this past November.  I just found out a few days ago that it has been edited and published.

I must forewarn you again:  I randomly received a phone call asking if I was interested in talking just a few days before the event.  I was very busy that week in the neonatal ICU and had to come up with and memorize about fifteen minutes worth of material in a very short time.  So please excuse any mistakes!

I must say, though, that because I had only a short amount of time to think of what to say, I spoke from the heart.  The experience was quite cathartic

Thank you for watching.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Four years later

This is the blog post that I wrote after returning to my apartment from a long day in surgery on May 23, 2013.  This post seemed jumbled because I was extremely tired when I wrote it.  I could have written for about ten pages if I had not stopped myself.  That is why I stopped writing this and quickly posted up this Facebook status instead.  I am posting this now because I do not want it to become another piece that I write but never actually post.


That day has come again.

Before I start, I should let you know that I did not sleep last night.  I say this because I ask for you to please not judge my writing.  I was up studying last night later than I had planned to be and when I went to bed, I could not fall asleep, even though I was extremely fatigued.  I slept less than two hours on Monday night and about four hours on Tuesday night.  I knew the reason why I had not slept much those nights, but what about last night? I gave up on trying to fall asleep and I got out of bed around 3:30 AM this morning and was at the hospital to round on patients before 6 AM. I got back to my apartment around 8 PM.

“Oh, man, look at that date,” I thought to myself last night.  “Tomorrow is going to be just like any other day, just like it always is.  I wonder if anyone will even remember.” I mean, only two or three people even remember my birthday without having to be reminded by Facebook, but that’s understandable.  No one would remember this day.

As my head today was swimming in a sea of surgical procedures, anatomy landmarks and the “heavy head” feeling that often accompanies lack of sleep, it hit me.  It has been four years since I was crushed under the roof my family’s SUV and my life as I knew it changed.  My next thought was, “Why haven’t I written anything lately?”  I used to write relatively frequently, even when I was busy. I reminded myself how I am really mentally fatigued these days whenever I return to my apartment.  I also noted how I have not had really strong opinions, thoughts or emotions on anything in particular so I haven’t really had anything to write about. 

Then I realized something else:  my subconscious mind has prevented me from writing anything new on here.  This blog is read by more people that I ever could have imagined and, though that makes me very humbled and surprised, it also set a mental barrier.  I think maybe when I realized that many people were actually paying attention to the things I wrote, I became self-conscious.  One of the things that I adhere to and that some readers have commented on and admire is that I am honest—sometimes brutally honest.  I share my inner struggles and inner feelings.  I do so for cathartic purposes and because though our situations may be different, many people I already knew and those I have met because of my writings are able to relate to what I say.  I try to be honest and say the things that people do not usually mention for fear of being vulnerable or judged.

I realized today that I have not been writing as frequently because I do not want to seem like a “tortured soul”.  That was foolish of me.  Anyone can see the type of person I am by talking to me and though I sometimes think about things that people do not mention, that does not make me abnormal.

I shall return to being honest.

Four years.  On the surface, noting things on a particular date and observing the length of time that has surpassed seems like a futile practice.  This day isn’t as profound as one would expect it to be.  Thinking back, I can see how different each year has been.  On the one year anniversary of my accident, I was still living at home in Snellville.  I had not moved into my apartment in Athens.  In fact, I was still bargaining with my family to allow me to live by myself there without roommates or assistance.  I remember I had already made plans to do something with friends that day.  I was consciously trying to act completely normal that day, as if it was just like any other day, not for myself but for those close to me.  I did that every day and never allowed myself to be any other way.

I recall when it had been about six months after my accident and I was at the Shepherd Center for outpatient physical therapy.  There was one person there who had been paralyzed for four years and then somehow he was able to move his legs, so he was able to qualify again for physical therapy and was relearning how to walk.  Another girl had been paralyzed for seven years, first from neck down until the ability to move her arms progressively returned to her.  She said a few weeks ago, her mom was helping her shave her legs when she shouted, “Ouch!”  The razor had cut the skin on the girl’s leg and, for the first time in seven years, she had felt it.  I remember telling my family and friends this at the time and we all said or thought, “Wow, four years? Seven years?  That is so long.  They must be extremely patient.  How did they even survive for that long?  What did they do?  How did they cope?”

I didn’t expect to feel anything today.  Instead, although I was busy, I had the opportunity to be with my thoughts and reflect—something I have not done in a while.

I have spent a significant amount of time in this “new” body.  I have relearned how to move around and perform my activities of daily living.  As hard as it was, I also relearned how to learn and organize my thoughts.  That is what the people who do not see me every day or have just read my blog may have noticed.  My classmates and the faculty members at my school have noticed something else I have had to regain:  confidence.

This is my last week on a general surgery rotation.  It has been very tough for me.  I spend my nights trying to memorize anatomy and then I spend the following day in the operating room getting asked increasingly difficult questions by the surgeon and getting embarrassed in front of the surgery team.  I am also consistently reminded of how different I am by the way I have to scrub myself in for surgeries and be positioned with the help of an assistant in front of the patient’s body in order to see and help with the surgeries.  It was not a problem before and I didn’t think it was going to be a problem until I saw the surgeon growing impatient with me.  I almost wanted to apologize for my disabilities.

Sometimes I wonder how people would act and treat me if I was able to always stand and interact with them at eye level instead of having to look up at people.

Four years is a long time.  As I say each year, I did not think I would have made it this far.

My old self and abilities are just vague memories now.

For a long time after my accident in May 2009, whenever I would dream at night, I would be completely able-bodied and walking or running in my dreams.  I remember lying in my apartment in Athens about a year and a half or two years after my accident and having my first dream where I was in a wheelchair.

I woke up really sad.

It’s strange.  Whenever I do dream now, it’s usually about me being a wheelchair, but also being able to walk normally.  I am not sure why I even have a wheelchair in the dream or how I know I have a disability in the dream because I am clearly able to ambulate on my own two feet.  I remember in one dream, I saw one of my hospital mates and told him how I just keep the wheelchair because my legs sometimes get too tired of walking.  In my latest dream a few weeks, another hospital mate, Chase T., and I were walking around and joking about things.

Hopefully one day, that dream will come true.

Still, to this day, people ask me if I’ve noticed any changes.  “Still the same?” they ask.

I smile back.  “Yes, still the same.”

That is usually followed by a brief look of pity on their face.  Then they force a smile and try to say something encouraging like, “It’s okay! We don’t know what the future holds.  Stay strong!”

I smile once again and nod my head in agreement.

I do not pity me.  Yes, it has been a long time and of course I do wish things were different.  There is not much that I wouldn’t give up to be completely healed and “normal” again.

But after a long time of being this way, I have learned to look past it.

As I move forward, I only wish that others learn to look past this, too.


I ended this blog post quickly. But I ended it with a take-home point.  I knew I had too much to say and too many things I wanted to write about since it has been too long since I have done so.  I will write about all the other things in my head as soon as I can.

And because I've said that I usually have a song that I can associate with each of my blog posts, here is this post's song:

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I didn't sleep last night and after I got back to my apartment a few hours ago, I wrote a blog post because I had much on my mind. It looked too long and I am  not sure if I was making sense since I am so tired. So, I got on Facebook and quickly typed up something and posted the following as my Facebook status. The blog post that I wrote a few hours ago, however, will probably be posted a few days from now when I have slept more than a total of six hours in the past four days and my head can actually think clear. This is the Facebook status I just posted up, since I know many readers of this blog are not my friends on Facebook:

Today, May 23, 2013, I can officially say that it has been four full years since that fateful tree crushed me under the roof of my family's SUV and turned my life, and the lives of those closest to me, upside-down.

The accident caused me to lose a lot of things, some easily visible and some not. But what I have gained since that time cannot be acquired with ease. There have been times when I have been scared. There have been times when I did not think I could be in any worse pain. There have been times when I have felt completely alone. There have been times when I have felt that everything in my life was crashing down on me and that there was nothing left to salvage.

From the severed nerves and killed brain cells--things that are still humanly impossible to regrow--I have grown. I have gained much insight. I have met many people and have had the surprising privilege of both affecting and being affected by others. I have learned more about myself and the human condition in these past four years than what it seems like others ever do in their lifetime. I could never have acquired the perspective I have in any other way. For everything I have lost, I have gained something new.

And now, four years later, I am thankful.

Four years later, I am here. I am now.

Monday, April 29, 2013

For my beloved readers

I haven’t written anything in quite some time, so in usual fashion, I will first provide an update on my life.

My third year of medical school is winding down now. I am currently on my very last clinical rotation of the year—surgery. After this, I will officially be in my last year of medical school. It surprises me how fast time flies. I started this blog just a few short months before I started medical school.  That was over three years ago.

I was speaking to a faculty member the other day and the topic of my blog came up. I also recently saw that this blog has hit over 50,000 views (about 52,000 now to be exact) from people all over the world. So, with that, I’ll answer some questions that people have asked me and that you may also be thinking:

How did you start this blog?
This blog all started about seven months after my accident in May of 2009 and just a few months before I started medical school in August 2010. A friend of mine was going to start a web site and he asked me if I wanted to be a writer for it. “Ugh. I’m a horrible writer. But I’m not doing anything right now at home before I start school. So I might as well do it. It’ll help stimulate my brain and get me to think and write so I can be better ready for med school. I’m not sure what kind of stuff I will write about, though, or if anyone will even read it,” I thought to myself and said to my friend. That’s when I wrote my first blog post, “My 7 month anniversary”. I had a friend from another state review it and help me edit it. I knew my writing was horrible. The web site for which I wrote that post never really took off, so I ended up deciding that I would start my own blog and use it to write about random thoughts that came to me. My first entry was something I quickly typed up late one night, “Jeans…say what?

Why do you keep writing?
After almost every blog post, I think to myself, “I’m all out of things to write about. That was my last post.” But I somehow find something else about which to write. After I posted that very first post on my blog, I got positive feedback from some friends. They wanted me to keep writing and they wanted me to keep posting the links on Facebook so they could know when I post anything new. I was really flattered. And I kept writing.

I get so surprised when I find out people read my blog. I remember when I got so excited when I found out I could check the viewer statistics on my blog and that over one hundred people from the United States (mostly Georgia) and Canada had read it. I couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone be interested in what I had to say?

The essential question, “Why write?”
Over the years, I have heard from people that my blog has helped me in one way or another. They thank me. But in return, I thank them more. I am unable to express my gratitude to these people.

I write about personal things. I lay my heart out for the world to see. Because this is me. When people first meet me, I am aware that all they see is my wheelchair; all they see are my disabilities. So I write to show that there is more than that to me. I write to show people that we should not judge others by how they look or by their “disabilities”.

I write to show that we are all the same.

Writing has helped me develop as a person. I was talking about this with the faculty member I spoke to last week. One can go through this blog from my earliest posts to my newest ones and see just how much I have changed. Writing has made me evolve. The positive feedback and encouragement I receive from others has really allowed me to grow. I have learned so much about other people and about myself.

I just hope other people have learned as much about themselves, too.

Who reads this besides me?
Over the years, the number of viewers of this blog has grown. I remember when I hit one thousand viewers. I remember when I saw that there seemed to be more people in Canada reading this blog aside from the four people I knew there. I remember when I saw that people in Europe had come across my blog.

Now, I receive about 2,000 to 3,000 views every month. I started posting links to my new posts on Facebook so my friends could read them. It is possible that the number of viewers spread from there. When people who were not my close friends or people I haven’t talked to in many years (eg, friends from high school) tell me they read my blog, I am still surprised, flattered and humbled.

This blog has given me the privilege to from great friendships with people all over the United States and the world. In addition, this has caused me to be interviewed by various publications, including local news sources (like the Gwinnett Daily post and university magazines) and international news sources (like the magazine emel or on other web sites). I have even been asked to speak at multiple events, including TEDxGeorgiaTech. I cannot be more thankful. I hope to one day meet all of these people.

Why don’t you write a book?
This question has been asked to me many times. To be honest, I don’t think I’m that good of a writer. So I am flattered when people suggest that. I’m just a regular guy writing about the things that happen to me and that go through that my head. In addition, time is a very limiting factor.

I often think about things to write as I go about my day but I usually don’t end up writing about them. When I write, I usually just get on my laptop and type up everything at once. Often, I do not look over my posts before posting them. I rarely ever revise or edit them. This keeps everything in the raw. It makes everything come straight from my heart.

Will you keep writing?
As I said earlier in this post, I have thought since I started this blog back in 2010 that every post would be my last post. Somehow, I find more things about which to write. So as long as I have the time and as long as people still enjoy reading about this crazy guy, I will keep writing.

Just please forgive me for writing so seldom this past year or two. Medical school and medical rotations are keeping me busy. But, if everything goes as planned, I should have just a few more months and a few more exams left of the “hard stuff” and then hopefully next year should be more relaxing as I finish off medical school and finally earn my medical degree.  J

If any of you would like to do so, you may ask any more questions you have in the comments and I will do my best to reply as quickly as I can.

Once again, I would like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for reading. Thank you for the encouragement. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My talk at MIST Atlanta, 4/13/13, "Patience In Practice"

The theme for this year's MIST (Muslim Interscholastic Tournament) was patience. MIST is a regional/national event in which high school students compete in various competitions (eg, oratory, debate, math, basketball, etc) and listen to different talks when they are not competing. University students and people in various occupations are the judges and volunteers. I was asked to speak again at this year's Atlanta event. This time, though, I thought of what to say at the last minute and made the mistake of writing everything down--in the same way I write my blog posts--instead of just speaking spontaneously. So be forewarned and please excuse my mumbling!

I recorded it because a friend asked me to do so and I am posting it here in case anyone else is curious and because I haven't written anything in a while.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Featured in a Muslim Heroes exclusive interview

Before you click this link and read the interview, I just want to say that I typed up these responses late one night and submitted them without looking them over. Therefore, I apologize for any grammatical errors or if it is written poorly. Thank you for reading, dear friends.

MH Exclusive: Hammad Aslam

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Take a Seat - Make a Friend?

Here is a fun and interesting video that ties in something I mentioned in my last blog post, Flaws. It's also just something that will put a smile on your face. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I haven’t written any blog posts in a while because, to be honest, I am just content.  There isn’t much that bothers me, saddens me or angers me. I haven’t been in a writing mood much lately because I find myself using any extra time outside of studying or my duties in the hospital for pleasure reading, relaxing, working out and sleeping more—things I enjoy.  The drive to/from Athens from/to Atlanta is a great one for putting the windows down and playing some music.  Various thoughts inadvertently come through my head during these long drives.

I was discussing flaws with a friend of mine some time ago and there is something about that topic that I can say with conviction:  I love flaws. 

Flaws make a person more real.  Actually, most of these “flaws” are just things that we consider different.  How are any of us to judge what is considered a flaw and what is not?  For example, is the fact that I'm in a wheelchair a flaw?

I meet and have met a lot of people.  I have spoken to them and sometimes listened to their stories.  And sometimes I am surprised; it really surprises me the way some people—a lot of people—think.

It seems like a lot of people are obsessed with trying to live a perfect life, raise perfect children, become the perfect student/professional/husband/wife and expect their plans to unfold as perfectly as possible.

But we are not perfect.  Life isn’t perfect.  Things rarely unfold as expected.

We do things that our family and friends don’t know about.  We do things other elders or religious folks would look down upon.

We make mistakes.

Sometimes, we are the mistakes.

And that’s okay.

We all have a collection of life experiences.  Sometimes when I see people striving towards being perfect to the point that they judge or look down upon others, I somewhat have pity on them.

It baffles me sometimes when I think how close-minded some people are, even by most of those who do not consider themselves close-minded at all.  I encourage everyone to try meeting new people regularly, especially those completely different from us and who “our parents told us to stay away from”.  But do not limit it to just “meeting” these people.  Almost everyone has contact with new people all the time.  People should take this one step further and learn about the person.  Learn about their experiences, their views, their “flaws”.  Listen to their stories.

In the same manner, I also somewhat have to shake my head when I speak with those who have never truly left their small circle.  They may attend college or have jobs but they still live in the same locale that they always have, they have not left their security and safety nets, they still have the same “type” of friends that they always have had and some even have lived at home with their families most of their lives.

I write to express myself.  I write to think things through.

Another big part of why I write is to show people that though I may be different, others can relate.  My experiences may be unique but so are others’.

When I meet people who have lived in a metaphorical “box”—and there are many like this—I am not very impressed, no matter how intelligent or pious they may seem to others.  Who do I admire more?  Those who have experimented, who have messed up, who know the disturbances life can bring to people, who have tried and failed—and kept going, despite all of this, and have changed their circumstances so that they are in a different place, figuratively and possibly even literally speaking.

Move out.  Move away.  Explore.

Widen your circle of compassion.  It’s okay to fall.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

UGA PreMed Magazine

Woohoo! I'm on the cover of the UGA PreMed magazine, a magazine for pre-medical students at the University of Georgia. Check it out and read the article:


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Those around you

I know I haven’t written anything in a while.  There’s a reason for that.  I feel like a change has come over me, especially since I spoke at the TEDx conference.  I only had a few days to prepare for the talk that I gave and as I have told many people who have asked me about it, I am not really happy with my performance.  But I must say, I opened up my heart to the crowd and left it out on that stage.  When I left the stage, I felt like something had been lifted off of me.

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently on clinical rotations.  This is much more interesting than reading books and taking tests, although I still have to do that when I’m not seeing patients.

This thing we call life is a lot simpler than people make it out to be.

An interesting thing happened when seeing a patient with chronic anxiety and major depressive disorder in the psychiatry clinic. 

“Dr. Aslam, do you have any questions for this patient?” the psychiatrist asked me.

“No, nothing in particular.  All the questions I had were answered,” I replied.

“I have a question for you, actually,” the patient said to me.  “How did you get in a wheelchair? What happened to you?”

I was surprised by this question. “I got into a car accident about three and a half years ago,” I replied.

“Oh, well, I was going to say something.  As soon as I walked in here I noticed you sitting there and thought to ask you.  See, I was in a bad car accident a few years ago.  I got plates put into my leg and had to walk with a cane for a while.  My ribs were broken and everything.  Since then I’ve just been so blah.  But seeing you makes me think, ‘Hey, if he can do it. I can do it.’  That’s very inspirational. If you can do it, then why am I always letting this bring me down?  It’s an inspiration for my depression.  I just wanted to say that.”

I was so surprised that I stuttered a thank you in reply as a bashful smile crept across my face.

That’s the first time a patient has ever said something like that to me so explicitly.

I don’t think my life is anything special.  I do what I do without noticing anything different now. Everything is a habit.  I have grown used to having to make adjustments to the point that they are no longer “adjustments”; they are simply how I do things.

I have been staying at my family’s home in my hometown these past few days since the offices I am going to are closer to here than to my apartment.  It’s always good being with family and reconnecting with friends—both best friends that I always keep in touch with and old friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.  They have been there with me since I have known them, through thick and thin.

Last night, someone very close to me said something that shook the establishment of what I had come to know as reality.

Last year, a classmate and I went to a support group for people who had suffered a stroke and their families.  My classmate and I were shocked and disappointed by the guest speaker there who was making exaggerated and even outright incorrect scientific claims regarding an expensive treatment that he said could cure the nervous system symptoms of those who had a stroke.  The people present at the support group were amazed and seemed ready to give their money for this “snake oil” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_oil).

“People in dire situations look for something—anything—that gives them hope.  I fell for snake oil myself a few times early in my situation,” I wrote on a piece of paper and showed my classmate.  He nodded in understanding.

I remember how hopeful I was in the beginning, as I discussed in this blog post.  I felt like everything would soon be okay.  Everything would be back to normal like they once were.  I would regain movement, slowly but surely, and start walking again.  All my friends would be happy for me.  Then, I would go on living like I had always thought I would live.

Some people close to me have never lost this hope.  It hurts my heart sometimes knowing that things fell short of the hopeful expectations of those around me.  This does not mean that those close to me are not proud of me.  Of course they are.  I think I just realized that without knowing when or how it happened, I have accepted things.

And that’s okay.

It just hurts me when I am let down and it hurts me even more knowing that other people have been let down.

I know as a physician, that is something that will sadden me.  When people have high expectations for themselves or for their family members or friends (for example, surviving terminal cancer), and are then let down, it can break them.  That is probably what Red from The Shawshank Redemption meant when he said, “Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

So what are we to do? Give up hope?


That eager, poetic, child-like hope that people have early on when facing extreme struggles is what creates miracles.  Nothing happens from just lying back and taking the beating.  Hope in my situation still hasn’t given me the results for which I had hoped.  So what?  It has led me to do other things that no one thought was possible.  And it has led me to affect those around me in seemingly magical ways.

We have the power to affect any individual we meet.  Be your best.  Leave them with some hope.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Neuro thoughts

Today was my first day of my neurology rotation.  I knew this was going to be interesting since I have first-hand experience in some of the things I was going to see.  After seeing some patients and talking to the attending physician, I became very thankful.

I was thankful not only to my family and friends, but also to myself.  I know that sounds odd, but I was thankful that I didn't take the easy way out.

Doc:  "You had a similar injury to your shoulder?"
Me:  [I explain my injuries]
Doc:  "What happened to you?"
Me:  [I talk about the car accident and how I was the only one in my family seriously injured]
Doc:  "Did it take long to adapt and learn to get around?"
Me:  [I explain how I took one year off after my accident before moving out, living on my own, and attending medical school]
Doc:  "I'm sorry if I'm asking so many questions."
Me:  "No, no.  No one has asked me these questions in a long time.  I sometimes forget about these things.  It's good to talk about them with someone who knows about the nervous system."

Talking about these things made me reminiscent and really thankful for how things turned out.

I remember when I wasn't able to use my right arm at all due to a nerve injury affecting my right shoulder.  I was unable to lift my arm and using this arm gave me a lot of pain.  The therapists didn't listen to me at first and made me continue to try and work with it until I confronted the doctor about getting it tested for any possible nerve damage.

I remember the intense neuropathic pain it caused me.  I refused any serious pain medications besides a simple dose of Tylenol at night so I could fall asleep through the pain.

I remember how the therapists and hospital staff tried to convince me to get a motorized wheelchair because of the weakness in my right arm.  They also tried to convince me to get a van that I could simply roll my wheelchair into and not have to transfer onto the driver's seat.  I refused both.  I knew using a manual wheelchair that I would have to push would make my arm stronger.  I didn't want to drive a van because it embarrassingly screamed, "Look at me. I have a handicap!"  I wanted to drive a car like a "normal" person.  I knew it would be tough at first trying to take apart my chair and putting it in my car multiple times a day.  But it was something that I wanted to do.  I just wanted to be normal.

I remember how I had many arguments with my family as I tried to convince them to let me live on my own.  They wanted me to have a nurse or at least have a roommate living with me just in case I needed something. I didn't want that, though.  I wanted to live on my own.  I knew I could live on my own.

Those decisions may have seemed stupid by other people at the time, but I am thankful for them.  They are what made me stronger, both literally and figuratively speaking.  I didn't like taking the easy way out.

Don't take the easy way out.  Work through the pain and discomfort if it's going to get you to a better place. You'll thank yourself in the future.