OTHERS

Medical student to patient with one bullet

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Bhūmi Patel

Spinal Cord Injury

In 2016 I had just finished my first year of medical school. I decided to spend my summer traveling with my good friends. First stop was Haiti for a public health “class” to learn about maternal-fetal health. Our two week trip was cut short— on the fourth day my friend and I were involved in an armed robbery. The masked man, for reasons I don’t dwell on, shot me twice: once in the chest and once in the hand. The bullet from my chest entered my spinal canal and instantly paralyzed me from the waist down. In that moment, as I awaited what I thought was certain death, my entire life changed. I was no longer just a student of medicine hoping to one day help my patients— I was the patient.                

Lesson from my Spinal Cord Injury

In medical school, we learn the inner working of the human body. We spend hours memorizing the minute details of pathology. We build empathy through numerous clinical interactions. By the end of our training we think we understand what it means to be sick and how to fix it. But all that changes when you experience chronic illness. When you become the patient, you realize how little your training means when dealing with a human life. We will all become ill one day. The majority of us will gain a disability. And inevitability, we will all die. Living with my L1/L2 spinal cord injury has taught me that I don’t need a doctor to “fix” me, I want a doctor that truly empathizes with me and my condition. One that sees me as a human being and provides empathy, support, and compassion so I can live the best life in this new body, this second chance, I’ve been given.

Learning to Love

The past two years have been filled with failures, triumphs, depression, joy, lots of crying, and immeasurable laughter, learning, and obstacles. The obstacles have made me a stronger person. I’ve found that the love I have for myself and others around me has grown immensely. I’ve given up hurtful habits, such as binge drinking, and found healthier coping mechanisms for my mental health. In the summer of 2017, I decided to return to medical school while using a mobility aid— my trusty walker. I’ve learned to let go of control and pride—I often rely on the help and compassion of others. While I’ve had days where I “hate” everything and everyone, I’ve had many more of the opposite. Being a patient myself has brought me unique perspective and empathy toward each patient, peer, or loved one I interact with. While the future will always be a bit more difficult than I initially planned, I’m excited for it will bring. There is not a day that goes by I don’t realize how fortunate I am to be living this beautiful life. I’ve been given the opportunity to grow into the best version of myself while helping others do the same. What more could I ask for?

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