I recently resigned my volunteer position at the therapy center for developmentally delayed children. I had become unhappy with the expectations of my supervisor who did not seem to feel I was capable to do much of anything. The environment had become depressing, evoking shame, self-loathing and anxiety. So, I sent my supervisor a kind email telling her in no certain terms that I was resigning my position.

I have since been looking for new volunteer opportunities. One of them is at a free clinic. I attended the volunteer info session just hours earlier today. The info session at the free clinic ended in good terms, but the ride wasn’t so smooth. I’m fortunate that I am able to articulate my strengths so well. Had I not been able to do so, I would have been overlooked for my deafness. It is only by the grace of God that I volunteered as I did, impressed the right people as I did, and answered His calling for me as I did up to this point. In the end, she only wanted to speak to two of my references, both of whom are associated with the free clinic and both of whom I feel have only good things to say of my character and my drive.

Still, I’m shaken by the bullet I barely dodged. There will be others.

Memorable Quotes:

Volunteer Coordinator: “I don’t want to mislead you, this will be hard.”
Me: “Good. That’s how I learn. With me, it’s sink or swim.”
VC: “Good answer.”
Me: “Look. I’m young. I don’t have all the answers. All I know are two things: one, this is what God has called me to do; and two, it’s been done before. All I have to do now is figure out how. That’s why I’m here.”

Getting Ready

February 20, 2012

If all goes through, my volunteer work will consist of working in a shelter for homeless men, working with children with handicaps and visiting the sick in the hospital under the guidance of a pastor. On top of this, I’m hoping to perform scientific research at the Oregon Center for Hearing Research under the direction of a deaf professor of head and neck surgery in the not so distant future.

The volunteer work will only last a month as the vocational rehabilitation office wants to observe my work ethic before they will agree to pay for my college education, but I’m hoping to turn it into a long term experience. In any sense, they’ll only pay for my undergraduate studies and not medical school. Nonetheless, there are educational grants and loan repayment programs available for doctors willing to serve an underserved minority patient population. I believe my experience as both a Deaf American and a Latin American would serve me well as I would want to focus on these patient populations in my practice. I’m especially interested in serving the culturally Deaf who have great difficulty finding culturally sensitive medical care in our predominantly hearing world. I imagine Deaf people would be willing to commute an hour or two away to be treated by one who understands their self-identity and moral values. Not only that, if I worked in an academic children’s hospital, I’d be a popular option for referring doctors who agreed that their Deaf patients would receive better care under my service.

So much to think about and look forward to. I’m excited to be at this point in my life where a dream I’ve always had finally seems within reach.

When Words are not Enough

February 17, 2012

I pride myself on being able to put complex feelings into words in a way that comforts even the most afraid spirit. Words are not enough this time.

Words cannot explain the pain I feel seeing a little boy embark on his journey with the same disorder I have. The young child only just recently had his entire right eyeball removed. His orbit–the eye socket–is inflamed so badly that it’s swelling right out of the socket. His doctors are considering tarsorrhaphy (sealing the eyelids together) to reduce inflammation and protect the now vulnerable flesh from infection. He’s afraid. His mother asked me if it will hurt. No, it won’t, but pain isn’t the only thing terrifying children inside hospitals. It’s the environment. It’s knowing something is wrong with your body and there’s nothing you can do to fix it or make it go away.

I want to hold him. To walk him through all the pain. To let him know that he is no lesser being. I want to teach him how to live like a champion and hope that he might realize that he can compete with the most able of them. God chose him, just like God chose me. The chosen must walk together.

Thank you, Connor, for reminding me of my calling. See you soon.

The Sound of Science

February 12, 2012

The moment I saw the article headline, Peter Steyger, PhD, Publishes Immensely Personal Breakthrough on Drug-Induced Deafness, I knew it was a sign. The very institution that had my heart longing to become a physician since I was a small child had a deaf professor and medical researcher educating and discovering within its very walls. Surly this was God saying to me, “You are on the right path, my son. I know it is a difficult and lonely path, for this reason I have given to you a mentor. Learn from him, my son. Learn as much as you can from him so that one day you, too, can mentor another who was chosen to walk the path less taken.”

I will, God. I will.

The Friendly Cyclops

January 31, 2012

She stares at me from her seat on the bus. This stare is different from the stares I’ve grown accustomed to. My presence doesn’t repulse her, rather it drives her curiosity. She cocks her head and stares at me, baffled by the mysteries my appearance present to her. I meet her curious stares with a warm smile. She smiles back and nods as she deboards the bus, confirming that she has received my telepathic message, “It’s ok. I’m a friendly cyclops.”

Born in 1898, Dr. Helen Taussig, a late deafened physician scientist, pioneered the medical specialty of pediatric cardiology with her role in the development of the surgical technique known as the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt. Dr. Taussig, being profoundly deaf, employed lip reading in order to communicate with her patients and used only her fingers to assess heart rhythms. In addition to being deaf, Dr. Taussig was dyslexic and had extraordinary difficulty reading. Despite her handicaps, Dr. Taussig earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley before pursuing graduate studies at Harvard School of Medicine and Boston University. Dr. Taussig completed her postgraduate research in cardiology at Johns Hopkins where she also played vital roles in the first successful heart surgery ever performed and the surgical palliation of Tetrology of Fallot (Blue Baby Syndrome) with her involvement in the development of the surgical technique, Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt. Dr. Taussig became deaf midway through her postgraduate work. In 1944, Dr. Helen B. Taussig, along with Drs. Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, performed the first Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt on an Eleven month old infant suffering from Blue Baby Syndrome, successfully saving the infant’s life.

In 1954, Dr. Taussig was awarded the prestigious Lasker Award for her involvement in the groundbreaking Blue Baby operation. By 1959, Dr. Taussig became one of the first women and the first deaf person to be granted a full professorship at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Taussig became both the first woman president and the first deaf president of the American Heart Association. The year prior to her election as president of the AHA in 1965, Dr. Taussig was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In 2005, Johns Hopkins University named one of its four colleges in her honor. The Helen B. Taussig Children’s Pediatric Cardiac Center was also named in her honor by Johns Hopkins years prior.

In 1963, Dr. Taussig retired from her work in the medical profession at the age of sixty-four before passing away thirteen years later on May 20th, 1986 at the age of eighty-seven. Dr. Taussig died on impact in an automotive collision only days before what would have been her eighty-eighth birthday.

Dr. Taussig’s portrait remains hung on the walls of Johns Hopkins University to this day and her legacy and lifework continues to inspire many.

Life: Through One Eye

January 18, 2012

It never fails. I find something in each new day that carries my mind back to my childhood. I cry inside, sometimes even outside, longing for an old friend I’ll never see again. I had a pretty normal childhood despite it being the most abnormal childhood one can have.

I was only five years of age when I woke up on a cold steel table, my life forever changed. I knew I just had surgery of the eye, but understood little more than that. My surgeon handed me a mirror and I looked at my new face. This one only had one eye. I stared at myself, strangely unaffected by what I was seeing. I was only five. Five year-olds are not developed enough to understand any of this, yet there it was.

“What happened to your eye?” I’ve been asked that question more times than I’ve been asked my name. Somehow my eye became more important than who I was. As a child, I always tried to answer the question patiently, using words, symbolism and analogies my peers could understand. Sometimes, though, I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted my eye to not be the center of attention. When moments such as those arose, I’d lie, claiming a spider bit me, to explain the limpness of my face. I tried to hide it. Eye patches, surgical bandages, ophthalmic bandages, glasses with the right lens fogged and even a prosthetic eye. Nothing worked for me. One by one, they all failed. I was cursed, unable to mask that which hurt my self esteem the most.

I suppose it’s good that I wanted to be alone at times, because I was alone a lot. I was tolerated by most and shunned by only a few, but looking back, it seems I was alone most of the time by choice. I had few I could relate to. I searched for so long, but I always came up empty handed. There was no one out there for me. No one who had seen what I see everyday.

I became the lone wolf, but like the lone wolf, I became stronger.

Even in my Dreams

December 20, 2011

Even in my dreams, I wander through these endless halls of tiled floors, elevators and desks. I pass each room, peering inside to see people lying in their beds attached to intravenous catheters, respiratory catheters, urinary catheters, feeding catheters; too many catheters. I enter each room as if I were a ghost hovering invisibly above the tiled floors. Why does my spirit keep bringing me back here? Haven’t I seen more of this place than any person should need to? Why would I choose to spend the rest of my life amidst these hallowed halls that echo with the cries of children long since passed away? I don’t know. All I know is that even in my dreams, my spirit returns.

A Lesser Being (Part 1)

December 10, 2011

I unboarded the county bus and made my way to where the city buses boarded. I boarded a random bus to take me to a part of the city I had not yet seen. I took the bus, being sure not to go too far that I couldn’t walk back to the transit, nor to unboard too far from a bus stop. The idea was to get off at a random location and look for medical offices and clinics to inquire about job shadowing and volunteer work opportunities.

If Google Maps is to be believed, I walked for a ninth of a mile before spotting a pediatric clinic. Since I love children and am fairly sure I want to work with them specifically as a doctor, I considered this a fortunate turn of events.

I made my way inside to a rather shabby looking interior. There were other people in front of the receptionist desk, so I took my place in line. The line moved quickly enough and I was soon faced with a receptionist. As I explained my purpose for being there, my college statues and provided references to confirm my story, I was given rather hurtful glares by the receptionist. As I wrote down my contact information, the receptionist twiddled a pen with her thumb and index finger, giving me a look that clearly told me two things: first, she did not want to be within ten feet of me and was evidently disgusted with my presence; second, she did not feel I was worthy of observing a physician in his or her workplace and that my life goals were merely an annoyance to her workday. Nonetheless, I remained adamant, impervious to her barefaced glares and determined to stick to business. As I wrapped up my descant and thanked her for her assistance, I offered her my hand to shake. She glanced at my hand, acknowledged its presence with a nod and turned her back on me to walk away. My hand still in midair, I stood there dumbfounded and dazed. I lowered my hand, turned to the exit and walked out.

As I walked away, something inside of me wanted to turn back, reenter the clinic, walk back up to the front desk and firmly, yet calmly state to the receptionist, “I’m human too.” I did not turn back, but rather I kept walking onward and away, angry voices screaming in my mind.

In my Heart the Same

December 10, 2011

The God of all the world
Took the sinners and made them saint
God chose the weakest ones
To bless them with His strength

The Lord of all creation
Took the meager and made them bold
God made a child a king
A shepard, a healer of souls

God, my Lord, my Father
You choose the ones most afraid
You give to them the heart of a warrior
The faith to follow the plans you made

Father thou art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven
And in my heart, the same

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