I’ve spent 20 years justifying myself and it’s exhausting

Tuesday November 21 2017

One day, when I was doing a ward round to see

One day, when I was doing a ward round to see patients on the ward, a parent sarcastically commented: “You appear sicker than us, please get us a more qualified doctor.” ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

By HASSAN KARIM

It was probably 20 years ago when my life changed in a flash. I had a road accident along Mombasa Road.

Our vehicle rolled and I was stuck inside. This resulted in fractures of the vertebrae in my neck.

The doctor’s conclusion, upon seeing my spinal injury, was:

“It’s a waiting game, but with a strong possibility of being quadriplegic all your life.”

It was like a life-sentence to my 20-year-old self.

PUNDITS WERE WRONG

Fortunately, the pundits were wrong on this one. I left hospital about six months later, able to stand and hobble around and as years went by, I finished medical school and went on to work in paediatrics, where I love being.

I still have partial paralysis of my whole left side and a slight limp with an odd gait.

What annoys me more than anything is people who think that my disability is my weakness.

The saddest part is, even in med school I was ostracised by lecturers because I was not a ‘complete doctor’.

I would never do full surgery as all doctors were meant to do. Don’t get me wrong, it is not all lecturers, some were amazingly supportive.

One lecturer suggested that I was never meant to earn the title ‘Doctor’ because it meant I had cheated the system by talking through surgery, instead of performing the procedures.

AMAZING CLASSMATES

Conversely, one of my paediatric lecturers was very clear with his support and stated:

“Not everybody is meant to do surgery, your brain is intact and you love what you do, don’t let ignorant people stop your dreams.”

My classmates were amazing. When I could not survive a full day in class, they would let me go and in the evenings, the group that I studied with would bring me up to par. If a lecturer was picking on me, they would tactfully divert attention.

In all ways, I was treated as their equal. If a school-break outing meant a hiking or camping trip, I was always invited along.

‘COLD’ TREATMENT FROM PATIENTS

As my career unfolded, I have met many parents who request to see one of my colleagues.

Why? It’s because I might miss the correct diagnosis and treatment because I have a problem too.

One day, when I was doing a ward round to see patients on the ward, a parent sarcastically commented: “You appear sicker than us, please get us a more qualified doctor.”

Ironically, their child needed an urgent transfusion and the only one who could insert an intravenous cannula to carry this out was me.

I must admit, it was nice to see them red-faced!

I trip and fall on a daily basis because my left foot gets caught on uneven flooring. I often hear comments, especially at airports, like:

 “He probably had too much to drink on the flight! To play along, I reply’ Don’t worry, just two tots of whisky!.”

DIFFICULT SOCIAL LIFE

Dating life can be hell, too. The same pressures apply from parents insisting on you getting married, having a family.

We go out and meet people like everyone else, but I can’t count how many times I’ve had a pleasant conversation on the phone and when I show up, the other party looks a little ashamed to be seen with me, because I’m not the so-called ‘perfect’ by society standards.

Those of us living with physical disability have learned to ignore you. But, we have one request to make. Judge us based on our ability, it’s exhausting justifying ourselves every day.

***

To share your own story, please E-mail: [email protected]