“MOM THERE ARE LIKE A HUNDRED PEOPLE AT MY APARTMENT RIGHT NOW, CAN’T TALK!”
“LIKE THIRTY OF US ARE GOING TO THE BASKETBALL GAME ITS GONNA BE SO FUN.”
“I WANT TO INVITE A THOUSAND PEOPLE TO MY GRADUATION PARTY!"
For years, my parents would say things like, “Alin, you can’t possibly even KNOW a thousand people! You exaggerate so much.” I proved them wrong while I was hospitalized. Let me tell you that I had a lot of visitors when I was hospitalized. A lot.
My program director would come by multiple times a week with candy and gifts. He’d be patient with my parents, who would ask him both medical questions and questions about what was going to happen with residency. I’d wake up after long naps to other ER attendings in my room, just sitting there with my parents— sometimes crying, sometimes laughing, but always there for me.
“I can still be an ER doctor, right?”
My attendings would reply, “Absolutely. A great one, too."
One of my ICU attendings would come by on her days off with People and In Touch magazines. “This will help you get your mind off of all of this.” She would always take the time to ask me how I was *really* doing.
Priya, my favorite surgical resident, would come by with a bag full of anything she found at CVS Pharmacy on her way home from work every night. She’d be tired as hell after doing a liver resection or bowel whatever for hours. “Today, I got you a neck massager and these scrunchies." She’d lay in bed with me for hours. I would have to force her off because the bed weight alarm would start beeping. “I don’t care,” she’d say.
Every day, Matt would sneak in muffins and cookies and watermelon juice, sit down next to me, and work on his fellowship research with his laptop. Every day, I would tell him that I felt like a burden, that he should go back to fixing ACLs. Every day, he’d tell me to shut up. “You need to stop pushing people away. You’re not a burden. We all care about you. A lot.” I’d roll my eyes and take a sip of my watermelon juice.
One of my attendings, known for his stoic demeanor and strict “old school” ways, once walked in and surprised us all. He stayed for a long time, in shock at my whole situation. He was going to leave, and almost made it to the door before he turned around and looked at me. “Alin, you have been so strong throughout all of this, it’s been unbelievable … and I just want to say that I would expect absolutely nothing less from one of the best residents who I’ve worked with.”
The whole room teared up. But I held my tears back.
Instead I said something along the lines of, “Thank you. But you’re just saying that because I’m dying.”
He shook his head. He walked back to my bed to give me a hug. “We’re going to clear the board on every shift when you’re back. You’re not gonna die.”
I teared up.
One of my close friends would always bring me breakfast bagels after being on 24-hour-call. We had a rule: to not talk about my whole heart situation, and to treat me like he would on any other “normal” day. “When are you coming back to work to admit patients that don’t need to be admitted, you dork?” he’d ask. We’d laugh. We’d hug. I appreciated that.
My best friend from medical school, May, flew in from sunny Miami and surprised me. She sat down next to me, and we joked about all of our old times. I sighed. “I miss coming home with you on Thanksgiving breaks."
“You’re gonna still come home with me on every Thanksgiving that you’re not working, don’t worry,” she replied.
My girlfriends aka my sisters from Los Angeles, Linda and Ateena, even flew in. Ateena would help me with my daily walks around the ICU. She would hold onto my milrinone pump, and I would make jokes about how my life was always in her hands. Linda, who is pretty much one of my only friends who is not in the medical field, walked into the room and asked, “Wait so what's a Cardiac A-ha! diet?”
My brother, cousins and relatives flew in and surprised me as well. “We cannot wait until you’re back in LA,” they’d tell me. My cousin and I would go down the list of everything we were going to do when I was back home on vacation some day.
A former attending of mine, someone I looked up to dearly, once walked in with a David Sedaris book and a sketch pad (which really made my day). We laughed so much at old “intern year” memories of mine. She then showed me a part of her sternotomy scar from a valve replacement years ago. “You’re gonna be in the Zipper Club with me when you get out of here. Pretty cool, right?”
My good friend, a cardiologist, would come by after working long hours (no matter what time it was). He knew that I was always going to ask him all of the specific cardiology questions my little brain had thought about all day. “Can we go over the Fick formula? Where exactly is this catheter sitting? How do they check wedge pressures?” One time, we drew out the human heart together on my iPad. I think he knew how nervous and anxious I really was deep inside. He sat next to me as I colored in the ventricles.
“Dude, as a CARDIOLOGIST, not as my friend, but as a CARDIOLOGIST … am I gonna make it out of here alive if I don’t get a balloon pump?"
“YES! Like no other! You’ll be back at work with a new heart! We’re gonna be going out so soon! First drink’s on you, though, because coming here after being at the hospital all day has really been taking a toll on me.”
I wish I could tell you a story about each visitor who dropped by, but IT WOULD BE LIKE A THOUSAND PAGES OF READING BECAUSE I HAD SOOOOO MANY VISITORS EVERY SINGLE DAY!
So then came New Year’s Eve.
On this particular day, I went to the Cath lab for the umpteenth time only to come back to, literally, ten people in my room. We didn’t have any champagne, but ginger ale worked just as well. One of my friends got me Sour Patch Kids (a real treat when you’re in cardiogenic shock) and I ate the whole bag. "Cheers to 2018. Hope 2019 is a little better than this,” I said, dryly, with SPKs in one hand & a plastic cup of ginger ale in the other.
“It’s gonna be so much better. Hashtag, new year new heart!” One of them said.
“Hashtag, can you guys go out and celebrate FOR me? All of you know that I LOVE this holiday.”
“We know that you love this holiday. That’s why we’re staying."
I fell asleep sometime around 10 or 11pm. I didn’t want to, but I did.
Anyways, let me tell you the best thing ever right now. Let me tell you that every single person stayed in my room until midnight anyway.
I thought it was kind of weird that they wanted to spend NYE in my hospital room. But nonetheless.
My dad asked me the next morning, “You remember when you were younger, we’d always hate that you were exaggerating so much? You’d say things like ’There are forty people coming over so I have to get dinner ready!’”
“You were probably never exaggerating that much."
I wasn’t. And during that time in my life, I felt extra loved. My support system was actually the reason why I got through what I got through. My “enablers,” as I liked to call them. They were constantly asking the techs to get me a blanket, to get me some tissues. They were constantly fixing my bed covers for me.
They would answer all of my medical questions when I wanted to talk about what was going on. But they would pretend like there was no invasive central line in my neck on the days that I didn’t want to talk about what was going on.
They would hold the back of my way-too-large gown and walk around the unit with me. When I looked short of breath, they’d say that they’d want to sit down for a second (because they knew that I would never admit that I was short of breath). I knew what they were doing.
They would bring me all of the sweets that I wanted. They’d pretend like it was theirs if my doctor or nurse walked in. Ugh, that Cardiac A-ha! diet…
They would tell me that I looked so good, even when my hemoglobin was 6 and I hadn’t done my eyebrows in three weeks. They would sit down and do manicures with me— even the guys who had never had their nails painted before.
They would watch everything on HLN TV with me on the days that I felt down. They would pretend like they wanted to watch the 3rd run-through of early 1990s Forensic Files. “We’ll watch these when you’re discharged, too, girl. I’m coming over with popcorn every night."
They would let me vent about how much my F&#(ing arterial line kept F*#$ing up. I rarely complained, but this was always a major complaint of mine. “Yeah, F*$& that a-line. It’s gonna be out in no time,” they’d say.
They would bring me flowers when they weren’t supposed to. In fact, they would bring me gifts, so many gifts, every day. I couldn’t wear shoes in the hospital, but one time, I told my friend that I badly wanted Doc Martens. “It’s gonna be the first thing I buy when I’m out of here,” I told him. He came by one day with a new pair of Doc Martens. “This is for when you get discharged. You’re gonna wear them on the day you’re out of here.”
“AHHHH! YES!!! Think I can wear these to the Cath lab today?” I asked, as I checked for pitting edema before trying them on.
“You can do whatever the hell you want to do. You’re Alin.”
You see, my support system gave me a lot of hope. Every single time they’d give me hope about being out of the hospital, being at work again, being out with them again, being in California again, being a world traveler again, being able to handle all of this because "I was Alin" … I became a little bit less scared and a little bit stronger than before.
I hated it at times, because I would feel like a burden. I would push them away. In fact, I got into arguments with them on some days— I didn’t want them seeing me sick and barely able to walk. I didn’t want them being late to work because of me. But these crazies just kept coming back.
This was all them. So, thank you, all of you, for giving me all of that beautiful hope during the worst days of my life.
And to my nurses who were taking care of me, I’m sorry for all of those THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE in and out of the unit every day.
To end this post, here are some photos from when I was hospitalized.