Behind The Smiles

Behind The Smiles

​Behind these smiles are stories. Stories of tribulation, suffering, fear and uncertainty.
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Someone I hold close to my heart received some difficult news today and I was inspired to write about the unspoken and melancholy effects critical illnesses have on a patient. While medical conditions cause severe emotional distress amongst family members, we sometimes forget to address the flood of emotions the patient is facing.

Coming from someone who fought for their life for 2 years, the array of emotions felt during an illness is overwhelming. The minute you get told your prognosis by your doctor, or in my case, unknown prognosis, you definitely go through the 5 stages of grief.

It starts with denial. It’s honestly hard to believe that you went from having a somewhat normal life to having a tube implanted for life support, intensive chemotherapy treatment to kill your cancer or even a time limit put on your life. Perhaps you woke up with a side ache, and that night you’re going to bed knowing you have a kidney disease. The news can be hard to comprehend, but eventually reality sets in.

The denial then turns to anger, but the anger usually doesn’t last long. It’s common to ask the question, “why me”? It’s understandable for a patient to lash out on family over little things, because inside they are trying to cope with the fact that their life is forever changed. Like I said, the anger doesn’t last long, because no one likes to be angry.

The anger transforms into bargaining, because the patient is racking their brain trying to decipher the reasoning for their situation. They feel helpless and vulnerable and want to have control over their life again, so they’ll question whether the outcome would be different if they had sought medical attention sooner or if the prognosis would be different if they got a second opinion. This is completely logical. It is tough to conceptualize the fact that you may no longer be seen as “Alex”, but rather “the sick girl”, “the girl with the tube in her nose”, “the girl in the wheelchair” or even “the girl that almost died”. But, when reality sinks in deeper, the bargaining stops.

The more and more you continue to live your life knowing you have a certain medical condition or in pain and discomfort, you simply get sad. I remember the numerous nights I sat in the hospital bed crying and crying until, literally, I had no tears left to cry. I was tired of fighting, I was tired of the hospital, I was tired of the endless examinations, IVs, vitals, ER trips and doctors. I wanted my bed, I wanted my dog, I wanted my family and I wanted my home. Home is where I felt comforted, it was familiar and it was a place I didn’t feel like a patient. I just felt like Alex: a daughter, sister, cousin and friend. But, you can’t pity yourself forever when you’re in these situations.

It doesn’t take long for patients to accept their condition and to live life with optimism and gratitude. It’s funny, because all the warriors fighting medical battles that I have met, always have a positive attitude and smile on their face. But, when I was in the hospital, my mom would get distressed when countless doctors would ask her, “Are you sure her illness isn’t self-inflicted? She doesn’t seems like a sick kid, she always is smiling, bubbly and laughing.” That was my way of coping; if I was going to spend all of my holidays for 2 years in a hospital room, then I was going to decorate my room, make friends with the nurses, take laps around the hospital with my IV pole and find unexplored avenues I hadn’t been through yet.

I wasn’t always an upbeat patient though, I definitely had my fair share of trials and defeats.

The day I got my feeding tube implanted, I had had an endoscopy procedure earlier in the day. The endoscope tore my throat up and left it completely raw, exactly in the spot where my tube pressed against as it passed through to my intestines. The pain I felt that night from the pressure of the tube on my completely exposed throat was excruciating. I couldn’t talk or swallow it hurt so bad. All I wanted to do was cry, but the minute I started to cry, the pain got even worse. That was one of many moments I admitted defeat and wanted to give up my fight. But, deep down I knew I couldn’t stop fighting. The thought of letting my family down, relinquishing my fervent foundation of faith and giving up on myself fueled me to persevere.

My brother, who has been blessed with the gift of humor, used his jokes to his advantage. He learned through my illness, that he can use his humor to uplift others when they are down. He used to put his white computer charger into his nostril and wrap it behind his ear to pretend he had a feeding tube, just like me. Being a typical 15 year old boy, he took my giant teddy bear and taped it above the sink and turned the faucet on. Of course, as juvenile humor does, I laughed and a smile grew across my face. I realized the amazing support system I had to pick me up when I fell down was worth far more than the pain I endured.

We have a smile on our face, we offer smiles and laughs to friends, family and strangers. We have a love for helping others and living life like everyone else. We handle our situations with grace and dignity. We don't give up. We may look okay, but everyday brings pain, trials, fear and sadness. But everyday, we smile, we love, we laugh and we remember...we are fighting this battle for ourselves, our family, our friends and our futures.

Behind these smiles are stories. Stories of tribulation, suffering, fear and uncertainty.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Cover Image Credit: Give A Smile Today

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To All The Nurses In The Making

We tell ourselves that one day it'll all pay off, but will it actually?
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I bet you’re taking a break from studying right now just to read this, aren’t you? Either at the library with friends or in your dorm room. Wherever you may be, you never get the chance to put your books down, at least that’s how it feels to most of us. It sucks feeling like you’ve chosen the hardest major in the world, especially when you see other students barely spending any time studying or doing school work. The exclamation “You’re still here!” is an all too frequent expression from fellow students after recognizing that you’ve spent 10-plus hours in the library. At first it didn’t seem so bad and you told yourself, “This isn’t so difficult, I can handle it,” but fast-forward a few months and you’re questioning if this is really what you want to do with your life.

You can’t keep track of the amount of mental breakdowns you’ve had, how much coffee you’ve consumed, or how many times you’ve called your mom to tell her that you’re dropping out. Nursing is no joke. Half the time it makes you want to go back and change your major, and the other half reminds you why you want to do this, and that is what gets you through it. The thing about being a nursing major is that despite all the difficult exams, labs and overwhelming hours of studying you do, you know that someday you might be the reason someone lives, and you can’t give up on that purpose. We all have our own reasons why we chose nursing -- everyone in your family is a nurse, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, you’re good at it, or like me, you want to give back to what was given to you. Regardless of what your reasoning is, we all take the same classes, deal with the same professors, and we all have our moments.

I’ve found that groups of students in the same nursing program are like a big family who are unconditionally supportive of each other and offer advice when it’s needed the most. We think that every other college student around us has it so easy, but we know that is not necessarily true. Every major can prove difficult; we’re just a little harder on ourselves. Whenever you feel overwhelmed with your school work and you want to give up, give yourself a minute to imagine where you’ll be in five years -- somewhere in a hospital, taking vitals, and explaining to a patient that everything will be OK. Everything will be worth what we are going through to get to that exact moment.

Remember that the stress and worry about not getting at least a B+ on your anatomy exam is just a small blip of time in our journey; the hours and dedication suck, and it’s those moments that weed us out. Even our advisors tell us that it’s not easy, and they remind us to come up with a back-up plan. Well, I say that if you truly want to be a nurse one day, you must put in your dedication and hard work, study your ass off, stay organized, and you WILL become the nurse you’ve always wanted to be. Don’t let someone discourage you when they relent about how hard nursing is. Take it as motivation to show them that yeah, it is hard, but you know what, I made it through.

With everything you do, give 110 percent and never give up on yourself. If nursing is something that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life, stick with it and remember the lives you will be impacting someday.

SEE ALSO: Why Nursing School Is Different Than Any Other Major

Cover Image Credit: Kaylee O'Neal

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I'm 22 And I Still Don't Have My Driver's License, But It Doesn't Bother Me

Although sometimes it's inconvenient not to have one, it's not a major concern to me.

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When you turn 16, the one thing you can't wait to do is get your license so you can finally have your first taste of freedom and no longer need your parents to drive you around anywhere.

When I was 16, I had no intentions of getting my license because I had no interest in driving.

I'm 22 now and I still don't have my license. Although sometimes it's inconvenient not to have one, it's not a major concern to me.

Before you ask yourself why I still don't have it, you should know that me not having my license is not entirely a personal decision.

It's part me not trusting myself and part having a disability.

I have cerebral palsy, and if you don't know what that is, it's a disorder of the cerebellum that affects things such as balance, coordination, muscle movements and reaction times.

Having a fast reaction time and strong leg muscles are something that you need in order to drive a car. You've always got to watch for that one crazy driver who blows through the red light and constantly press down on the pedal, because how else would the car move?

Don't get me wrong. I do have my permit. I got it shortly after my eighteenth birthday and taking the test four, yes, four, times. I've been behind the wheel a few times on residential streets in my town, so I know the basics of driving a car, but it's hard for me.

I use my left foot to control both the gas and the break because the cerebral palsy is in the right half of my body. This is unfortunate for me because you need your right foot to drive. I'm not sure how I learned, but I found that using my left foot is a lot easier for me.

But, I learned pretty quickly that you can't do that when taking the actual driving test.

I haven't been behind the wheel of a car in quite a while because, truthfully, I've been busy. When I'm not at work, I'm at school, when I'm not at school, I'm at work.

I'm at school sometimes more than 12 hours a day because of homework and my internship and I work on the weekends at the same place my dad works at, so we ride together.

My mom drops me off at school in the morning before she goes to work and picks me up in the evening and my friends drive to all the concerts we attend.

I don't make that much at work, and my internship is paid but I don't get a lot from there, and I have student loans, a credit card and medical bills and my credit isn't that great yet, so I don't really have any money to buy a car.

Why have a license if I don't have the funds to purchase a car at the moment?

Sure, if I absolutely need a ride somewhere and my parents aren't home, it's a little difficult finding one if all my friends are busy, but that's about the only trouble it gives me.

I'm pretty much a homebody and I only have a few close friends that I enjoy hanging out with, and during the school year, I'm hardly ever home during the day anyway.

It gets a little annoying when my friends, family, co-workers and sometimes professors ask me when I'm going to get my license, but I try to explain it in the nicest way possible.

Without using my disability as the primary excuse, I let them know that I'm just not ready to drive nor do I have any way to purchase a car.

Maybe in the future, when I'm out of school and I have my finances under control, I will work on getting a car AND THEN my license.

I am aware and fully understand that the day will come when my parents won't be here to give me a ride anymore, but everyone else needs to understand that driving is a personal decision and not everyone is ready to do so at the age of 16.

And that's perfectly okay.

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