Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong
Lessons I Learned From Almost Dying
Personal Essay & Memoir
Lessons I Learned From Almost Dying
I have a collection of hospital wristbands in my room. To clarify, they're all mine; I promise I don't have a weird hobby of taking other people's hospital wristbands. They're not from your average childhood trip-to-the-emergency-room injuries though; they're from doctors' appointments and surgeries. When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC), a chronic illness that causes inflammation in my intestines. One of the medicines I take is an infusion to dampen my immune system. At each appointment, I get a hospital band so they can verify my identity.
I started collecting hospital bands by accident. I put one on my dresser instead of shredding it, and then I did it again. And again. Now, I do it consciously. In the past, I've undermined and ignored my chronic illness, comparing myself to others and telling myself it's not that bad. Kids at my school got hurt daily, breaking legs and spraining wrists. It's not an arm brace or a cast, but my bands represent the growth I experience. They show me my pain is real and I can still thrive even with it.
One of the first things people say to me is that I'm a trooper, from nurses to doctors to my own mother. I hate that word. I never liked thinking about my UC; I wanted to feel "normal" and separate the disease from myself. I always felt like life was unfair for giving it to me. I would tell myself, 'If I muscle through and keep going, everything will be fine.' I still don't like the term, but since collecting the hospital bands, I've been able to process how much I've had to manage. I'm not able-bodied or "normal", and that's not bad.
I may not be a trooper, but I am a fighter. I've had to work hard to be at this place of acceptance of my illness, where I can thrive even with it. Growing up sick is exhausting and difficult, but it's taught me a lot: how to understand my limits, patience (because my body can't always do what my mind can do), and how to make the most out of a bad situation. I've learned to live my life to the fullest, taking every opportunity I can. When I first got sick, there was no telling when I would get better, if I even would. My UC was serious enough that I had to spend a few months in the hospital. The doctors wanted to remove my colon, and my family and I didn't know how it would affect my life. When I finally got out of the hospital (with my colon, thankfully), I still wasn't able to do everything I wanted to do. I couldn't play basketball or baseball, couldn't horseback ride, I couldn't play cello or piano, and I couldn't even swim or have sleepovers with my friends. I learned what it was like to truly miss something, and I loved and cherished them all the more when I could do them again. There were some things I had to give up permanently, like sports. Instead of letting that affect me mentally, I learned to love myself for what I could do, not what I couldn't.
I pushed myself further into school, and I discovered my love for learning. I founded a disability advocacy club at my school, meeting some of my best friends. I grew closer to my family and I learned what friends I could rely on no matter what. I never thought I would have to deal with my health in such detail for the rest of my life, but I can only make the best of what I have. When I look at my hospital bands, I see everything I've had to go through. Every infusion. Every surgery. Every appointment. And I love who I have become in spite of that.