“It’s not what happens to us that defines us. It’s what we choose to do with what happens to us that defines us.” – Elizabeth Smart
A few weeks ago, I attended a talk given by a doctor who had a life-threatening illness fairly early on in his life. Now, this doctor is treating patients with the same illness he once had, while also conducting research to improve outcomes and hopefully one day find a cure for these patients. As he began his talk about his life, career, and journey to becoming a physician, he used the following quote to open the presentation: “We are largely a product of what has happened to us.” Basically, his experience with illness and being a patient fueled him to become a doctor and help others going through the same thing that he once did. I strongly resonate with this quote. My experience as a patient with endometriosis played a large role in my decision to go to medical school and pursue the chance to become a doctor. However, it is not the only reason. All throughout our lives, the events and people in our lives shape us in more ways than we probably notice. Yes, what happens to us largely contributes to who we are and become, but taken one step further, it is our actions and choices in response to these events, good or bad, that allow us to take control and create our own paths despite what the world may throw our way.
The first time I thought about becoming a doctor I was in middle school. After going my whole life without worrying about my health, I was now undergoing extensive testing for a heart condition – Prolonged QT Syndrome. I went to a routine doctors appointment and the nurse told me and the other care providers that my blood pressure was high. After retaking my blood pressure multiple times and getting pressures that were too high for comfort, I was referred to a cardiologist. For the next year I would be in and out of my new cardiologist’s office and the children’s hospital, undergoing many rounds of bloodwork, EKGs, and stress tests. The findings were not conclusive, but my cardiologist told me that my EKGs were showing the possibility of Prolonged QT Syndrome. This condition can cause fast, irregular heartbeats that could cause sudden fainting and even sudden death. I really didn’t fully understand what was happening. I had to wear heart monitors to school and I was banned from participating in any sports or physical activity in order to decrease my risk of chaotic heartbeats. At the time this was devastating to me, as all I wanted to do was play volleyball with my teammates. I remember feeling confused by the words my doctor was telling me and scared by the serious consequences I now had to consider.
I was told having this heart condition would require life long management and might even cut my life short. However, I still had not gotten a definitive diagnosis. It was determined that I would need to go to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to have more specialized doctors evaluate me. Just as my parents were about to book our flights from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, we got a call that my chart had been sent to the doctors at the Mayo Clinic and they deemed it unnecessary for me to go. Although, the QT interval on my EKGs was prolonged slightly, it was not enough for a Prolonged QT Syndrome diagnosis. And just like that, after going through months of testing and worrying, I was deemed to be healthy. I remember standing in the kitchen of my house with my mom. We were talking about everything I’d gone through and I said to her, “I think I could do that. I think I could be a cardiologist.” This was the first time I really thought about going to medical school and could see myself being a physician one day.
Also, around this time in my life was when I started experiencing the symptoms of my endometriosis. It pretty much entailed a similar experience of never ending doctors appointments and testing, only this time I was in pain and the testing would not just last months, but years. Over these many years of fighting for answers, I had both good and bad experiences with different doctors. Some were very attentive and empathetic, while others barely gave me the time to explain what I was going through, making me feel like they did not believe me. It made me think about what I would do if I were in their shoes. If I ever became a doctor I sure hoped I would never make a patient feel the way I felt in some moments. I still have the same hopes that I will be as attentive as possible to each patient and do my best to understand what they may be going through in order to never make them feel unheard.
As I got into my college years, I would often think about what kind of doctor I may become and what specialty I might choose. Because I had seen so many gynecologists over the years, I thought I would never end up in Ob/Gyn. However, this past year of going through some of the worst physical pain in my life along with undergoing surgery has changed this line of thinking. I could see myself becoming a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon and treating patients with the same illness I have.
While I am not taking the possibility of ending up in an Ob/Gyn specialty off the table, I am still interested in other fields too. On Thursday, I shadowed an orthopaedic surgeon on call for any orthopaedic needs in the hospital over night. My shadowing shift was scheduled from 6-10pm, but I ended up staying until 2am! The eight hours flew by and I had the best time observing this doctor and helping him and his colleagues treat patients throughout the night. It sounds a bit harsh, but the broken bones, lacerations, and exposed tissue was exciting. It is also incredible to me the level of care doctors, nurses, and care teams are able to provide in the middle of the night. Running around at 1am in the hospital from one patient to the next was invigorating. I left the hospital on such a high and with so much excitement for my future. I am going to be a doctor!
While my endometriosis has handed me many hardships throughout my life, I do believe it has led me to where I am today.