It will soon be over seven years since the last time I saw you. It feels like yesterday we were singing along to your favorite song as you drove me to my weekly dance class.
I first wrote to author George Saunders in my senior year of high school. Thankful for everything his writing taught me about empathy, I sought advice as I crossed the “seemingly arbitrary line into adulthood.”
I start the day like most of us do: stimulating the needy vessels we call bodies with caffeine. As I open up my coffee jar to dispense ground Turkish coffee beans, I am met with a hint of loving bitterness. It carries a comforting brown sugar warmth that often stirs a sense of weakness given my inherent dependency on this substance but also commands secure boldness through notes of molasses and dark chocolate.
The once-sterile hospital room had become a sacred space, where the raw emotions of love and loss hung in the air. The young daughter, vibrant in her essence but tethered to life support, teetered on the precipice between existence and the inevitable.
“254?!” I gawk at the glucometer, stunned that Tom’s blood sugar has soared to such heights when it has consistently remained below 125 for the last two weeks. Tom glances up at me with an amused look on his face, clearly entertained by my reaction — “It was probably that pork chop that did it.”
My first time in the operating room (OR) was when I was a junior in college. I was beaming under my mask, so excited to shadow and observe my first surgery ever, a riveting and exotic procedure: a planned and standard laparoscopic cholecystectomy. A friendly circulating nurse that I had been chatting with asked me, “Sabrina, what’s your glove size?”
The first thing I noticed entering Betty’s room was her walls. They were papered, nearly from floor to ceiling, with photographs of celebrities. Taylor Swift, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran all stared back at me.
After spending nearly a lifetime as a Type A perfectionist who struggled with developing new skills, I had spent the last several years trying to adopt a policy of “practice makes progress.” I have learned to accept the fact that being bad at something is often the first step towards being good at it.
We are given tools to imitate their behavior, in hopes that we ourselves will one day embody that behavior. Mechanical checkboxes on the standardized exam with standardized patients. Cannot forget a single step. But life is not standardized, is it?
Skepticism of healthcare is widespread throughout some of these communities — rightly so due to historical mistreatment, discrimination and lack of representation along with cultural differences. This distrust may be further strengthened by a patient’s own personal experiences. I respected this wariness, but I had yet to witness it firsthand.
“James” handed me a new tube of toothpaste, the box a familiar green and white. Even without opening it up, I could already smell and taste the “jook-yum” (bamboo salt) I grew up with at my parent’s house. I had since switched to Crest, bought in bulk at Costco, forgetting how the two minutes seemed especially long brushing my teeth as a child. Never did I think I would reencounter the niche Korean brand my …
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I kept myself sane by writing “Notes from the 13th Floor” — a series of moments I wished I could share with the outside world and the kind I never wanted to forget.