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About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

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Hope

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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 cooperate. Judging by the smirk on his face, he didn’t think we were going to get anywhere, either.

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 came to accept that my grandma would not live to see me graduate from college or medical school or witness any of the milestones I'd achieve in my life--a fact that was especially disheartening for me.

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 in itself. I lacked purpose, and I even questioned my will to live. Hope seemed just beyond my grasp.

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 they can be free. Free of IV poles, free of worries, free of the stares of strangers, free of the word "cancer."

Music Fills the Soul

Over the years I had come to dread this weekly chore and today, as always, it filled me with such sadness. Tuesdays, on my day off from work, I would drive to the nursing home to visit my mother. There were times when Mom would look at me with her crystal clear blue eyes and say, “Do you know when Beth is coming?” “I AM Beth,” I would exclaim, over and over again when Mom asked me the same question until finally, one day I answered, “Beth is coming to see you soon.” Mom’s face lit up and she smiled.

As time passed, she didn't ask for me at all.

Monkey Magic

 
Although I was an unpopular adolescent--never invited to parties, never asked on a date--I still had dreams. I wanted to become a teacher, a wife, a mother. Then a medical issue threatened my mother dream and, possibly, my wife one as well.

Shortly after I graduated from high school and a few days after I turned eighteen on August 8, 1965, I entered the hospital for surgery. A chronic pain on the left side of my abdomen had intensified, making it impossible for me to leave my bed.

When You Don't Know What to Hope For

 
My mother lies quietly in the hospital bed that has replaced her regular bed, now that she can no longer get up on her own. Every day she stares at the TV, appearing to watch it with interest. When I come into her room, she smiles and tries to say hello--in a voice that is barely a whisper. Her eyes sparkle a little. In my own discomfort, I begin asking simple questions, hoping to elicit a simple answer. She stares at me, then she stares above me, looking intently at the ceiling.

Optimism

“You will get better,” the physician told my brother. My brother was younger than I am now when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I don’t think even he believed the doctor, or he wouldn’t have asked me to take care of everything.