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Hospital Lessons


My freshmen year in college, my major was officially “undeclared.” But when people asked, I would follow, “Technically, I’m undeclared” with “but I’m going pre-med.” Everyone I knew was pre-med (or so they thought), except for the kids that were declared art majors or design majors, the same ones who took to loudly discussing the subthemes and cinematography of David Lynch’s disturbing Blue Velvet and who considered video clips of people eating feces to be highly artistic social commentary. I think pre-med was such a popular notion for the undeclared to claim because the career path following it was so clear cut: first you would be pre-med, then you’d major in some form of biology, you’d attend med school and eventually become a doctor.

It’s odd to think that I was asked at age 18 to decide what I wanted to learn and what professional occupation I eventually wanted to take up. Especially considering that not even a year before that, the highlight of my year was planning Senior Cut Day with my friends (we planned a trip to Taco Bell and then we wildly walked the streets of Santa Cruz. We didn’t drink and we didn’t smoke but I don’t think any of us wore sunscreen that day because, by golly, we were rebels!)

It soon became evident that I did not like pre-med classes. (It might have had something to do with the fact that I was not so good at them, but that is just one small, minor, insignificant theory.) The summer after freshmen year, I came back home to San Jose. I picked up the UCLA catalogue and sat hunched over it on my bed. For the next few hours, I thumbed through the black and white pages and ran my fingers over each of the majors the school offered. As my finger slid past each one, I read it out loud and envisioned myself in the major. Finally, two felt good to me and it was those two that I majored in: economics and psychology. Turns out these were a much better fit, and I was happy.

Until recently. Recently, with Alan’s “short” hospital stay turning into a week long visit, I wish I had a medical background. I wish I knew why he can’t eat anything and what could be done about his intestinal blockage. I imagine the pieces of lettuce he ate in his In ‘n’ Out burger (the ones I know he secretly suspects blocked his intestines) and I imagine them creating a seal, preventing anything from properly traveling through his digestive tract. I would have a better solution than sticking a tube down his throat to suction out his Jamba Juice. My solution would be better because after the tube would be removed, he wouldn’t continue to be blocked. And I definitely would not tell him he would be released in 2, 3 days, only to have him stay for 9 days and counting.

Aside from wishing I might have tried harder in biology (or at the very least, wishing I had paid more attention to how the “House” team deduces all their brilliant, medical solutions), Alan’s hospital visits have taught me a few very important lessons.

1) Do not get cancer. I know no one wants to get cancer, and sometimes it just cannot be helped how one’s cells want to mutate or express themselves, so maybe I should rephrase this lesson as Do everything you can to decrease your risk of developing cancer. Visit the doctor early on if you think something might be wrong (hint (and don’t be embarrassed if you need this hint because some people do): something might be wrong if blood is coming out from places where it normally has not come out from in the past or if you feel nauseous for a good, solid month for no good reason).

Alan’s post-surgery recovery has been hard, really hard. Like a solid month spent in a hospital room hard. But all that time spent in the hospital has also enlightened me to lesson 2.

2) Never ever ride a motorcycle. The number of hospital roommates Alan has had who have suffered serious injuries from motorcycle accidents is beyond belief. One day, we stepped outside the hospital to find the cutest basset hound sitting on the steps with his owner. The basset hound was wearing a mini vest and because we are curious people, we stopped to ask the owner what his dog’s vest was for. The man looked at me and said, “He is a therapy dog. I was in a motorcycle accident and I died two times. Both times they brought me back to life. But because of that now I am a little bit dumb and this dog helps me meet friends because people come by to pet him. I think he is beautiful.” It was shocking to hear such a candid response and I almost wanted to help him revise it so that he could make friends in a more natural manner, but that is a very hard thing to suggest to someone, let alone a complete stranger, so we didn’t say anything and moved along quietly with crashing motorcycle images firing off in our heads.

Last modified: January 10, 2019