Cotton Wool Hair

“How long have you been doing this?” he asked, eyes gleaming with admiration. I was unsure whether he was asking long I had been conducting patient interviews or how long I had been a medical student. I decided on the latter. “Two years,” I replied with a confident smile accross my chin. “Well, you’re very good!.” “Thank you,” I replied, almost a whisper.

It was a compliment I was definitely not expecting on my first day there.

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First Combat, Then Conversation

 
2010: I’m a 25-year-old premedical student, an herbalist and a volunteer at a free clinic. I’m experiencing unaccountable fatigue, achiness, brain fog and dizziness. After a series of medical evaluations, I receive a dreaded diagnosis–Lyme disease, the same infection that crippled my mother, that I now feel twisting my body and contorting my mind. I am infected with terror.
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The First Time

 
Walking with my mother through a recent time of ill health was unlike the countless times I had supported individuals and families through their own times of grief and loss. As a spiritual health practitioner (aka hospital chaplain) at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, on an island near Vancouver, I found the setting and the situation very familiar. But the emotions were anything but.
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Hope Lost

In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. He entitled it “The Audacity of Hope.” At the time, as a wide-eyed, innocent medical student who had just finished her third-year clerkships, I wondered if the medical profession had not only lost this audacity but, furthermore, if we discouraged our patients from “the audacity of hope.”

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Medical School

We came to the one place I knew you dreaded.
 
 As joyful as you sounded when you called me at work after you plucked the envelope – a big envelope this time – from our mailbox, I knew our happiness lay in the expectation that other oversized bundles would follow. For it to truly be our happiness, our dream, we would need to rejoice at this triumph, then file it away and ultimately go elsewhere.
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Searching for My Super Power

 
My name is Tamara, and I have a blood cancer, Polycythemia Vera, which means in my bone marrow, the essence of my being, I have a mutation. Like the X-Men, only I have yet to discover my super power.
You see it is freaking rush hour up in here. Too many red blood cells and platelets and not enough neurotransmitters or oxygen, and what this means is I feel like the life and the person I want to be have been hijacked.
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Hope in a Hopeless Place

 
In 2008 my father was committed to a long-term care facility, and our family visited him daily. We testified to the nursing home staff of the funny, smart, kind and generous man he once was.
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Finding Answers

 
When he was 24 years old, my first husband had a stroke. A blood clot blocked a vital artery deep in his brain. One side of his body fell flaccid. Speech and language fled. To all of my urgent questions, the neurologists at Massachusetts General Hospital could only reply, “We don’t know.” They didn’t know why it happened. There was no way to dissolve the clot or reverse the damage. They simply tried to keep him alive and waited.

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Occupational Empathy

 
On my first day shadowing an occupational therapist, I learned much more than I had anticipated.
 
We saw five patients that morning—with each one, the OT went through a series of exercises to test their strength and mobility. The first four visits were interesting, though uneventful, as the patients completed their exercises with varying degrees of success.
 
The last patient was a man with a history of alcoholism. He had a tube in his throat, which prevented him from speaking. A resident outside the room informed us that no one had been able to get him to

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A Beacon of Hope

 
I never realized the importance of surrounding myself with people in need of hope until I experienced a difficult time in my life, a time when I needed to lean on others to find hope and solace.

During the fall semester of my sophomore year in college, I suffered the loss of my grandma to lung cancer. I became wracked with guilt, anxiety and depression following the death of this essential member of my family. When I was informed of my grandma’s terminal illness, I had joined a support group; in this group, I cried and yelled until I

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Hope Heals

Hope has been the key to happiness in my life. Lows happen; troubled times are inevitable. But when I can hope that what hurts will be healed and difficulties will be overcome, I can be happy. Hope is something we can hold onto in difficult times and know, trite though it sounds, that the dawn follows even the darkest nights. I have also learned that hope sometimes arrives in different and unexpected packages.

During my sophomore year of college, I hit my personal low. I was drowning in depression and anxiety. Simply making it through the day was a feat

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The Playground

I stand squinting in the sun as the kids parade off the buses. Quickly, the campgrounds fill with smiling faces, colorful t-shirts and baseball caps. From afar, there seems to be no difference between this place and any other summer camp.

However, underneath many of the t-shirts are chemotherapy ports and surgical scars, below the hats are bald heads and behind the smiles are fears, memories and young lives impacted by cancer. Yet walking through the camp’s rainbow-adorned gates, I lead the children into a world of hope. A place without needles, hospital beds, pain or isolation, a place where

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