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 K├╝bler-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.”