We all know what 2020 was like. So much loss- of health, of happiness, of livelihood and loss of lives. Specifically, 1.81 million lives lost worldwide, as of today, due to COVID-19.
I guess I’m fortunate to feel like I’ve gained more than I have lost this year. But some of my losses are worth recognizing:
🖐🏾 Bye boobs
🖐🏾 Bye cancer
🖐🏾 Bye self-doubt
🖐🏾 Bye self-hate
🖐🏾 Bye fear
The “me” exiting 2020 is drastically different from the one who walked into it. Ironically, I am the exact same weight as I was this time last year. Even with the fluctuations thanks to steroids (ick) my net change is 0lbs. But that’s just a number. A number that in no way encompassess my body’s experience in 2020.
I have many vivid memories of moments of this year that I’m not fond of but that I know I’ll never forget, like, the dense click and vibration of the biopsy needle coring out pieces of my body or understanding the meaning of the Red Devil or finding my first bald patch, non-confrontationally developing on the back of my head. And, of course, So Many Needles. But these are the memories that have shaped me into the empowered body and mind entering 2021.
I’m also going into the new year with a new primary care doctor. My previous one, the one who I was with when I was diagnosed with breast cancer has since graduated and moved on. I knew from the beginning she was a fellow and I’d only be able to be her patient for less than a year, but 1) we instantly clicked, I appreciated her line of thinking and her bedside manner and 2) I wasn’t expecting to become a patient the way I ultimately became one this year.
You know what I’m talking about. Technically, we’re all patients to medicine in some form, but a subgroup of us get stuck with a stickier patient label. We inherit a long-term entanglement with doctors and hospitals and medicines and treatments (and their side effects) and all that jazz. Our medicine cabinets and kits, pill boxes and carriers look a little more “colorful”. Our speed dials include a variety of specialists (I had to create a separate list to sort my professional physician contacts from my personal providers) and we may have hospital bags prepped and ready to go.
This year, I experienced the hospital in a way I never had in the last 8 years. I no longer navigated the floors with my head held upward, my long white title hugging me snuggly and my most trusty instrument, my stethoscope, resting on my shoulders. I no longer felt at home. I no longer strode down the halls, nodding my head in camaraderie to colleagues passing by and demonstrating my knowledge of the intricate layout of the hospital to lost visitors.
The first time I shuffled into the radiology center downtown for my mammogram my eyes were fixed to the ground and shoulders sunk trying to be as invisible as possible. “Don’t look at me.” Turns out, I was in the wrong location…
The receptionist kindly gave me the address to the correct building. Per google maps it looked like an easy 0.4 mile walk, so I headed out. When I arrived at the right intersection, I circled and circled and could not for the life of me find the building. I consider myself pretty visually-spatially ept, so my frustration in not being able to follow these simple directions was mounting. I really wanted to find the building but it’s like my subconscious was simultaneously feeding me valid excuse after excuse of why I could not make this mammogram. Maybe it knew what was in store.
I ended up walking down to the main hospital (a 3rd location), then back to the intersection twice, ultimately walking about 1.5 miles until I found the center which was further down one street than I expected so I could not see it from the intersection. Regardless, I mosied in there and that’s how my relationship with hospitals started as a patient.
In my first visit with my new primary care doctor recently, I chronologically spewed out the notable events of my medical history, ending with “Well, that’s all about me.” To which she responded, so gently and genuinely,
“No, that’s not all about you. Your health is one part of you. Tell me about the rest of you.”
Mic Drop Please, right? This is the message I want to leave all of you, especially the “patients” like me – your health and your business in your doctors office or hospital does not define you as a person.
Kavita Jackson, MD