“What are you ‘dying’ of this time, Lauren?”
This is the greeting I am met with every time I step foot into my pediatrician’s office, which is much too often. If there were a rewards card for office visits, I would be a gold member. With every strange bump, slight cough, or nagging headache I get, I can only put my mind to rest by dragging my mother across town with me to get whatever it is that’s bothering me checked out. I am a hypochondriac by its very definition.
I have been afraid of everything pertaining to the medical field ever since the sight of a bloody scraped knee in the third grade playground sent me into a collapse and convulsions. After an emergency room visit and what felt like hundreds of tests later, the doctors concluded that I was fine and that I had fainted simply out of fear. However, my 8-year-old self knew without any years of medical school education that there was actually something terribly wrong with me and that I would be on my deathbed before elementary graduation.
Throughout my childhood, the thought of everything from catching a disease to surgery made me feel nauseous. While most kids feared not finding a date to the middle school dance, I feared that a mosquito bite on my leg would lead me to be at death’s door due to West Nile Virus within a week. I feared my life being cut short before I could even live it due to some freak disorder or disease, and I feared the state of eternal oblivion I would one day enter. A simple scraped knee left me incapacitated at the prospect of sickness and eventual death. Despite all this, I still signed up for the medical career pathway all students at my high school typically take.
I managed to stomach my way through the first two years of textbook work and medical terminology memorization. However, I dreaded every second leading up to my junior year when I would have to perform clinical rotations around my local hospital. I viewed the hospital as the absolute embodiment of my hypochondriac-driven fears. I could barely watch hospital shows without getting anxious. As you might imagine, it was hard to even picture myself being thrust into that environment once a week.
However, when junior year finally came – and with it, the fluorescent halls of Valley Baptist Medical Center – I ended up learning how to overcome my fears. Even though I was shaking in my scrubs, I was a spectator to everything – from feeding tube installation to gastric surgery. I pushed thoughts of demise to the back of my mind and pushed what little bravery I had to the front. My ears heard screams due to death and grief amongst the beeps of ICU machines but also heard the cries of joy and new beginnings in the women’s pavilion. I saw death in the eyes of several patients but I also witnessed someone being brought back to recovery and a new life. By the end of the year, I no longer dreaded my visits to the hospital, and began looking forward to them instead.
I still become nervous every time I begin to feel the familiar tickle of a sore throat form behind my tongue, but I no longer live paralyzed by the fear of something unavoidable. I will not spend my life being afraid of when the end will come. I like to consider myself oblivious to the oblivion that will one day overcome me. I no longer view death and disease with the same fear I developed from my “life-threatening” third grade incident. I view death and disease as old friends who will inevitably come knocking at my body’s door someday, met with a warm embrace.