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The Gift

The Gift

Over the years, I have come to realize how precious life is, especially a healthy, productive life. Sometimes I get lost in the everyday world, wondering if I will ever have enough time to just be. And then reality kicks in. I am awakened to the sound of Archangel Raphael's trumpet. I often wonder if people know what it is like to be a doctor. For some doctors, it is a serious adventure we travel alone, one filled with great challenges every day. In my life, no two days are alike. As much as I try to direct healthcare towards routine and protocol, the forces of the infirm keep me from having a regular work life.

When I had finished medical school, internship, residency and fellowship training, I really had not grasped the importance of being a physician. As a child, once I lived with my grandmother and father, I had the usual pediatrician visits and wellness checkups. I saw the physician for sports physicals, but even though I had migraine headaches, I never went to see the doctor. Aside from disabling headaches, I experienced great health. As hard as I tried to find the triggers for my headaches, I was baffled. There was no common theme.

My headaches would start with an aura, my vision would become blurred, then my hands and feet would go numb, then my speech would slur and none of my thoughts would translate to what I said. It was a bizarre transient episode. I trusted that it would all be okay. Then the headache would arrive twenty minutes later. This was no ordinary headache, it was an intense one sided crippling headache. It could be on the right or the left side of my skull, it was not predictable. Then the vomiting would begin. Every fifteen minutes, I would vomit. I felt so nauseated. The nausea was worse than the headache. When I vomited, I felt better for about two or three minutes. Then the cycle of pain, nausea and vomiting would repeat. Almost every fifteen minutes or so. It seemed like I made hundreds of trips to the bathroom to vomit into the toilet. But most times, it was dry heaves.

As I became exhausted from the pain and vomiting over the course of hours, I would finally fall asleep. When I was a child, my father did not believe in pain medicines, so I just toughed it out. When I awoke in the morning I had a headache, but its intensity was far less than the previous night's medical nightmare. Sometimes I could go to school and function normally, sometimes not. But over time, I learned to cope. I never sought a cure. I just accepted my lot in life until working in an emergency room during a rotation in medical school. While on duty, I had one of my migraines. An emergency physician saw me vomiting in the staff toilet and asked if I was okay. I told him a brief history of my headaches and he said, "Hell son. You need some pain medication." It was the first time I received pain medication for my migraines. It was life changing. I got pain relief from the shot of meperidine and Phenergan®. The ER nurse called a friend of mine who drove me home. I slept through the night and the headache too. I was able to return to my student life the next day. I thought I had experienced a miracle. Even though I had experienced the compassion of a man I did not know, I still had no clue what it meant to be a physician.

So when did I grasp the meaning of being a doctor? It was at my grandmother seventy-fifth birthday party. My uncle Charlie had planned a big party for my grandmother. She was shy and did not like parties, only family gatherings. But she reluctantly agreed to attend a party in her honor. I took time off of work in Cincinnati, Ohio to attend. My grandmother reared me and she was the most important person in my life. There was no way I was going to miss celebrating her seventy-fifth birthday. When I arrived, there were very few people. As my relatives were getting ready for the hundred or so guests, my Uncle Pat cut his scalp on a sharp corner of an open kitchen cupboard door. It was a deep wound. I looked at the cut and told him I would fix it. I cleaned his laceration with rubbing alcohol and sewed it together with his hair. He was amazed. Quite frankly, I was also amazed that I came up with that idea. It worked. At that time we did not have crazy glue to glue the edges of the cut together. The party began.

It seemed as if hundreds of elderly people were there. It felt like a bus load of nursing home patients arrived to honor my grandmother. My grandmother was gracious as always. As I was getting something to drink, an elderly woman approached me. She was carrying a bag filled with medication. She asked me if she could take a moment of my time and talk to her about her medications. I was surprised, but sat down with her and explained that many of the drugs she was taking were interacting with each other. She needed to take a different course of action to relieve her symptoms. She thanked me for my time, stood up and walked away. As soon as she got about five feet from where we sat, another elderly woman came, sat down and showed me her medications. I looked at her and told her that I was not at the party to counsel people about their medications. I was there to celebrate my grandmother. I could see the sadness on her face. She stood up and walked away. As I leaned over to pick up my drink from the coffee table, my grandmother magically appeared. She was angry.

"Kevin. Did anyone force you to go to medical school?" she said loudly.
I replied softly, "No grandma."
Her voice got louder, "Kevin. Did anyone force you to become a good doctor?"
Again I replied softly, "No grandma."
"So you did it all on your own. No one forced you to become a doctor."
"Yes grandma. That's correct."
"Then you need to be a doctor. Always. If you're ever asked a medical question by anyone at anytime you must help them. Do you understand me? You are a doctor. My friends know you are a doctor. You must always honor and serve those in need. Kevin. Do you understand me? No one forced you to be a doctor. If you don't want to be a doctor, be something else. A plumber, a carpenter or a business man. If not. Then you must be the doctor!"

I looked down at the ground and felt ashamed of myself. I realized I could not just put the doctor mask on and off, I had to be the doctor. With that realization came the responsibility to do the very best I could at answering the anyone's questions of illness, medication and health in general at anytime. Even if it meant sitting in a chair and helping the elderly at my grandmother's seventy-fifth birthday celebration. My grandmother was from Armenia, she had an eastern worldview and she demanded I be the doctor, not just act like one.

I looked up, "Grandma. I'm sorry. I will be the doctor."
She smiled, "Good!" She stood up from the chair next to me and walked away.

As soon as she did, that elderly woman I shooed away came back. I helped her sort out her problems. That night, I sat in a remote area and held a medical clinic for her friends. I didn't eat, dance, drink or visit with my family. After the party ended, my grandmother walked over to me, "Kevin. You gave me the best gift for my birthday. I am proud you are a doctor. You can never change. Ever." She hugged me. I got up from my chair, stretched and drove her home. I stayed with her that night.

The answer about what it means to be a doctor is simple yet complicated. I have the honor to serve people in their times of greatest need. I am the doctor. Being that person means that everything else comes second. It is the same for every person who serves mankind in one way or another. If they are the doctor, they will find great joy and sadness in their life. If they study nature and humanness, they will arrive at the conclusion that being a doctor and being ill are two sides of the same coin. I am honored to be a doctor. Thank you for allowing me to be your doctor.

I hope the gift of health finds its way to your doorstep this holiday season. It is the most important present you could receive.

Doc
Posted by Amanda Sanders at 10:56 AM
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