Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
You’ll be dead in a month.
I walked out of the doctor’s office. Disoriented. Disbelieving. Distraught. I was going to die.
I was 14 years old, and I lived in hell. I have been blighted with eczema my whole life, but it was different when I was younger. At the age of 14, I did not have eczema. It had me. It had me in a crushing vice-grip, its clawed fingers choking away. It tore me from school for 18 months. My friends abandoned me. I could only sleep an hour at a time. I lay in bed at night, writhing in unimaginable pain. Ironically, I could not even hydrate my parched body. Water seared my raw skin, and I would pass out from pain every time I stepped into a bath tub.
I tried everything. I traveled to three continents. I saw dermatologists, hepatologists, allergists, psychologists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, Chinese herbalists, spiritual healers, hypnotists. I listened to their diagnoses, I took their medicines, I followed their advice. And I returned to their offices with a loss of bone mass, tremors, and sun-scorched skin—but no improvement. It was in one of those offices that a doctor told me something.
“You’ll be dead in a month,” she said.
I refused to accept the reality of my fate; I wanted so desperately to say that she was wrong. But I was too tired. Too tired of nothing working, too tired of having nothing to look forward to each day. Too tired of climbing uphill but going nowhere. Yet whether I chose to accept it or not, destiny had thrown me into the ring with my greatest adversary—my own body. Quite literally, I had to fight for my life.
And so the fight began. I fought my disease, I fought my own biology. And, in the beginning, I lost. Every single day. I would cry and scream, claw at my flesh, and hope that somehow, in some way, my body would respond to my fervent plea for respite. Days melted into months, months melted into years, and years melted into an eternity. Nothing changed.
Yet I still fought. And it was almost impossible. I didn’t eat out for 18 months. I didn’t even leave the house for 18 months. Cloistered away, I forgot what my neighborhood looked like, what my school looked like. I forgot what other teenagers looked like. For 18 months, I saw no one but my mother, my father, and my brother. I sacrificed my entire life to beat my disease.
Finally, I won. My stamina returned to normal. I once again had energy. The pain faded. I was back.
I had been thrust into a furnace of disease, smothered by flames of agony and pain. My being had been crushed, its fragments scattered like dust into a void of solitude. My life had crumbled around my ears. Yet I had not been defeated. In the fires of my suffering, within the abyss of my loneliness, amidst the wreckage of my existence, I was forged, sintered, and rebuilt stronger than I had ever been before.
I returned to the life I had left an eternity ago. It was the same. Same places, same people, same problems. Yet I was different. I did not buckle. I did not bend. I had mastered my own body; I could easily take on anything life threw at me. I could do anything.
I could do anything. But would I?
Today, I am a dietary consultant at a gastrointestinal clinic, and offer advice to many patients. I am the Chief Information Officer for a 501(c)3-registered non-profit organization, Project AP, dedicated to providing healthcare services to underserved and financially disadvantaged populations in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. I am a member of an eczema support group based out of Rady Children’s Hospital, and regularly speak at their meetings. I volunteer in the nursing ward at a local assisted living center.
I was fortunate enough to triumph over my illness and come out the other side. There are those who are not so fortunate, and to them I offer myself — my words, my capabilities, and my experiences — in the hope that they too, can one day taste of wellness as I have tasted.
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