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” (

“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.