Whom I’m really thankful for this weekend: the public servants who gave up their Thanksgiving dinner to save my life.
There are some people we aren’t truly grateful for until something goes wrong.
We were just five minutes away from my great aunt’s house in rural Maryland, where we were having dinner for this year’s Thanksgiving get together, when my left lung collapsed. I was in excruciating pain as my lung tore apart from my chest wall and began to deflate due to a rupture in its lining. I don’t cry (except, perhaps, at Pixar movies), so as tears streamed down my face, I knew something was wrong.
I had previously had two collapsed lungs diagnosed via X Ray, and last summer, upon my second collapse, I had a CT scan and surgical operation meant to prevent such an event — medically referred to as a Spontaneous Pneumothorax — from occurring again. Unfortunately, my luck rendered me part of the less than 4% of patients who are unlucky enough a recurrent attack following the surgery.
When I was first wheeled into Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Maryland, then transported by ambulance to Inova Fairfax, renowned for its pulmonology department, and next treated with oxygen therapy in the pediatric department, one fact didn’t really seem to cross my mind — I was hungry for turkey and stuffing, but so too were the hundreds of medical professionals who had given up their family gatherings to staff their hospitals 24/7.
The next morning, as we waited to see if the collapse would heal itself, an X Ray showed that my condition had deteriorated, with my lung collapsing even further. By mid-afternoon, I was taken into the surgical pre-op room, stripped down to a gown, and administered a cocktail of muscle relaxers and giggle-inducing drugs before being wheeled to the operating room. In moments that quickly turned fuzzy, a mask was placed on my face and blackness overcame me.
The next thing I remember is waking up to my parents and family in moments that were unfortunately captured on camera: sticking my foot in my grandmother’s face, asking her to “give me a little kiss,” reminiscing that “Hillary Clinton really does look good for her age,” and asking doctors to “pack me some of that ‘good good’ in a baggie to go,” referring crudely to the general anaesthetic.
As I gradually regained my consciousness, I saw the tube that entered my left abdomen between two ribs, a thick, clear-colored tool attached to a suction in the wall that pulled pleural fluid from my chest cavity — Kool-Aid-colored buildup outside from my lungs — I saw a nurse checking my pulse and taking my vitals.
But what I also saw was a doctor rushing down the hallway to care for a crying baby who had no mother or father with her; an ambulance staffed by first responders pulling into the hospital’s emergency department, as various “codes” were announced over the loudspeakers; and an elderly lady, visible through my fifth floor window, that was being administered some treatment — perhaps dialysis or chemotherapy — by a young practitioner.
All of these employees were different, each with a unique role in the miniature city that was my hospital’s sprawling campus, but one thing they all had in common was the fact that they weren’t at home — with their families — eating dinner and drinking wine. Instead, they were walking the hallways of a cold, dimly-lit hospital, caring for patients who needed their help.
It’s easy to appreciate the family we see every day, the food we tangibly eat from our plates, and the shelter in which we sleep every night, but what’s harder to find gratitude for are the countless individuals, like hospital workers or firemen, whose work goes unnoticed until it’s needed.
And when it is, there’s nobody for which you could ever be more thankful.