Thursday, March 28, 2013


she asked me to tell her about myself. i grew up in south florida. moved to swaziland for a year after college to do HIV public health work. came back to go to med school. now i'm doing residency here.

do you think you'll go back to africa when you're done here? well, maybe. i want to. i have some health issues.

then the tears start. i tell her how sickness once again caught up with me. about my recent hospitalization and missed trip to europe. how i was well enough to fly to LA for the last couple days of my vacation. how i don't want to start the new IV medication they are putting me on.

she tells me how amazed she is at how much i've accomplished despite this sickness. how i managed to finish med school. how i'm finishing residency. i breathe out deep breaths of thankfulness as she says this. the stepping back to tell the whole story reminds me of how far i have come. the little losses of this past month seem small in comparison to all the huge graces that have carried me this far.

i once read about a jewish song, dayenu, that is apparently a part of Passover celebrations. the word roughly translates to me "it would have been enough for us." the song talks about how god led israel out of slavery, about the miracles god did for israel. at each point, it pauses to say "it would have been enough." if god had only given one of those gifts, it still would have been enough.  

as i told my story, the concept of dayenu kept running through my head.

if i only got the chance to live on red swazi earth for a year, it would have been enough.
if i only finished med school, it would have been enough.
if i only finished the first year of residency, it would have been enough.
if i only danced in a sari at my best friend's wedding in india, it would have been enough.
if i only had enough energy and love to get through today, it would have been enough.

the list goes on, a trail of goodness that fills the life that often feels like wilderness. i'll take the mix of good and bad: the trips to india where i pack both saris and pillboxes. the southern california sun that came after a canceled trip to europe. days in a hospital bed surrounded by amazing friends and cafeteria milkshakes. 

it is enough.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

life, interrupted

september 2012:
it was a triumph. an act of defiance against a disease that limits me. i knew there were risks, but i had to take a chance and live life.

it was the middle of the night when the plane landed in delhi, and there was only darkness out the windows. my flight to bhopal took off a few hours later. the sun was rising by then. as the plane lifted, i saw the indian landscape for the first time. without even thinking, i exhaled the prayer: blessed are you, o lord, who has kept us alive and sustained us, who has brought us whole to this moment.

i had first come across that prayer in the worst of my illness a couple years earlier. it bothered me because though i knew i was alive and sustained, i felt anything but whole. i repeated it over and over in my head, wishing it to be true. 

in the air over delhi, i finally felt that wholeness and breathed out my thankfulness.

march 2013:
we'd been planning it for months, my friends and i. we were going to see london, then take a train to belgium, then i would fly over to prague. i had a stack of tour books from the library and a list of everything 1000 places to see before you die told me i needed to see. i imagined myself walking along brick streets and through the alleyways and across bridges, taking it all in.

the pain started 5 days before my departure, and i thought i could shake it. i tried so hard to get better in time; in the end, i was admitted to the hospital hours before my flight to london was scheduled to depart.

that triumph i had felt on a plane only months earlier, that i was expecting to feel again as i drank tea in london and ate chocolate in brussels and explored the streets of prague was replaced with with sadness.

again that prayer came to mind: blessed are you, o lord, who has kept us alive and sustained us, who has brought us whole to this moment. except i didn't know where that prayer fits when my assigned seat was empty and a hospital bed was occupied, when the fatigue wasn't from jetlag but from not getting enough oxygen, when it isn't belgium chocolate but hospital cafeteria food that i was eating.   
this disease that feels like death by a thousand cuts - a cumulation of a million little losses - is somehow countered by the one thousand gifts that fill my life.

there is sadness over this lost opportunity, over the time with old friends that wasn't lived, over the world i couldn't see, over the air i struggle to breathe, over once again having my plans altered by a disease i didn't want. but my heart is also filled by the friends who visit the hospital even though it is their day off and who make sure i get a milkshake on each meal tray, by the sister who stays all day and paints nails and plays drawsome even though she hates hospitals, by the parents who bring lunches and daffodils, by the sun the rises over the city reminding me that someday things are gonna get brighter.