“He looks exactly like my younger brother when he was sick.”
I messaged that to my best friend back home immediately after I laid my eyes on the young man or boy (I never did find out his age). His full cheeks were shaped as if he were hiding food for hibernation. They were covered by an oxygen mask and I could see his discomfort ooze from his attempt at a smile. Wide-eyed. Helpless. Yet strong. I could not erase the image of his eyes meeting mine. I could not erase the feeling of wanting to hold him and make him feel safe. I could not contain the feeling of wanting to hold his hands and say “I’m here for you.”
This week at Komfo Anoye Teaching Hospital, I shadowed doctors and nurses in the Emergency Unit. I was originally scheduled to shadow doctors in the Pediatric Emergency Unit. However, the unit was overcrowded with medical students and doctors so it was difficult to hear what the medical professional were discussing and stay engaged. Therefore, I decided to pair up with Anna in the Emergency Unit. We decided to stay in the Red Room, where patients with the most severe cases were placed. After about half an hour of shadowing nurses, Anna and I were informed that three patients in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) died over the weekend. Two of the patients who died were patients that I saw for a week and developed a kind of attachment with. You know, the kind of attachment where you want the person to do better and not see them in pain. Yeah… I was almost on the verge of tears when Anna reminded that the situation is painful, but we needed focus on the here and now (words can’t explain how much I appreciated that). I then turned to my right and saw a patient who had the kindest eyes. The way in which his eyes gracefully pierced my heart then nursed it back to health, scared me. I needed to know why. I spent a lot of the time trying to figure out why he looked and felt so familiar. I could not help but search for an answer in his movements, his height, his hair, and his eyes. And then… I saw it. I saw my younger brother bleed from his flesh and crawl into my arms for comfort. I wish I could go into deeper detail about how I felt at the moment, but even that would be too much for me.
We waited in the Red Room for the doctor we were assigned to shadow for about an hour. When he arrived, Anna and I asked him various questions and overwhelmed him with our hunger to learn. We asked about each patients’ symptoms, diagnosis, and sometimes their prognosis. Towards the end, I asked about the young man who reminded me of my younger brother. The doctor told me that he was suffering from complications from Sickle Cell Disease and that he needed to be monitored.
On Wednesday, Anna and I found ourselves in the Red Room of the Emergency Unit again and to my surprise, the young man was still in the room. I was confused because patients who arrive in the Red Room do not typically spend more than a day in that unit. Once again, I found myself watching him, monitoring his vitals and wanting to talk to him to make him feel safe. I spent most of the day stopping myself from bursting into tears. I eventually left a couple of hours early because his respiration rate decreased and he looked as if he was under a lot of stress. His pain somehow became the pain of my younger brother’s. I knew I could no longer be in the hospital.
From that moment I started to think more about my future as a doctor. I also internalized something Ernest told me about the origins of Haitians. He told me that Haitians were 60% Ghanaian. At first, I thought his comment was just for kicks and giggles because no one in Ghana asked me if I was Ghanaian, but what he said had truth to it. I started paying more attention to the physical features of the people around me and I could definitely see my family in them. I was so used to feeling a connection to Haiti and thinking of it as my “home” and my “origin.” Now, I am starting to see past that and deeper than that.