I remember the exact day I decided I want to become a doctor. Well, if you want to be technical, I decided when I was gifted a toy stethoscope when I was about 6 or 7. And over the years, this childish, uninformed decision turned into a more bona fide career goal. However, it didn’t truly register as something I felt was my calling until this one particular day in 12th grade.
It had only been about 2 years since my symptoms started and I had just recently been diagnosed by a doctor in India, so my feelings of despair, loneliness, and confusion were still at their peak. None of my friends understood what I was going through, so I was convinced what I needed at the moment was a peer who shares my pain. I was convinced the day I met another teenage girl with chronic pain, I would finally have someone to talk to and I would feel slightly better and at this point in life- ‘slightly’ felt profound.
This could not have been farther from the truth. And I didn’t realize that until the day I did meet someone like me.
We had a dinner party at my house and my Dad had invited one of his coworkers and it was revealed to me that her daughter- who was 14 at the time- also suffered from chronic pain. I remember thinking about all the anxiety she must be feeling, all the doctors saying throwing new scary words in her face every visit like “arthritis” “Lyme”.....”fibromyalgia”....when the answer was essentially going to always be “I don’t know”, the inappropriate jokes she would have to hear, the lack of understanding from her teachers, and everything else that the harsh reality of living with invisible disabilities encompasses. And this was too much to handle. I ran into the bathroom and started tearing up and decided then and there- I don’t want there to be another Riya and I absolutely hate that there are over 9 million in the US alone, majority being women.
And so I started my college experience preparing to become a physician. I took rigorous pre-med classes, joined orgs, volunteered, shadowed, did research, joined an honors program, published articles, spoke at panels, wrote blogs, etc. In other words, I acted as if I was abled. But I’m not. And my health has suffered tremendously.
As my role as a full time student is only temporary and my job as a full time patient may be forever, I’m starting to realize maybe medicine is not a field within my reach. I’m right now in bed trying to figure out how to stand for three hours in a lab tomorrow, how will I handle a 5 year residency that requires 80+ hour work weeks? I know if I really want to, I’ll push myself and I’ll come out barely alive with a white coat on. But living with illness is a daily reminder that your health is the most important thing in this world, and I don’t think I can or should ignore that message much longer.
That being said, this International Women’s Day, I’m keeping women like me in mind; women whose goals now have to cater towards an illness they never predicted, women who live in the constant presence of fear of new symptoms, and women who push themselves every day. Maybe one day we won’t have to fight as hard.