The Journey from Patient to Physician

Nadia Khalil is a 2022 recipient of MALA’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships to people of all backgrounds in the pursuit of higher education.

I could feel my heart racing after the Uber driver opened the door for me. I walked in through the sliding doors of the ER terrified. How can I do this alone? I sprinted to reception to give my name but all she asked was for insurance and ID. Once my information was taken, I grabbed an open seat, anxiously waiting. I couldn’t believe that my status in this hospital went from college volunteer to patient in 10 months. Once my name was called, I hurried into the next room. After a brief interrogation from the nurse, she asked me to close my leaking eye. I couldn’t. “Try harder sweetie” she asked but to no avail. “Try smiling for me honey,” she said. The left side of my cheek was so locked in I felt like I was smiling like an American girl doll. “Ok sweetie no worries. Just have a seat and we will call you soon”. After a nerve racking 10 minutes, a physician assistant came to see me. He took one look at me and said “Yep. Classic case of Bell’s Palsy”.

I was floored. Bell’s Palsy? I just contracted mono 2 weeks prior. How could Bell’s Palsy be in the picture? But all the classic symptoms had matched up with mine: droopy eye, locked cheeks, pain near the ear and no movement whatsoever on one side of the face. I was devastated. How can I eat, drink, or sleep? What will people think of me? Will I be stuck like this forever?

I eventually got my prescription for a medication called Prednisone, known for treating many inflammatory conditions and diseases. Most doctors recommend 5mg-60mg when starting out. When I began treatment, I was on 80mg/day for 10 days. It took a huge toll on my mental, physical, and emotional health. I was afraid to tell others what happened to me. What if they start treating me like I’m a charity case? My anxiety would overwhelm me constantly.

After weeks of additional medication, pigeon soup, and acupuncture, my smile and winking abilities returned. It took me 3 months to fully heal from the time I contracted mono to when I was completely cured from my Bell’s Palsy. The chances that I had even gotten a paralysis condition from my viral mono condition was less than 1%. As a pre-medical student, my experience has taught me that in order to be a well-rounded physician, the doctor must try their best to understand the patient’s perspective. Not just the symptoms and long term impacts of the disease. But the fear of going to hospitals, of waiting in the ER, not being able to pay for medical treatments, and the patient’s fight for their life. Physicians must have strong empathy and understanding of their patients in order to properly diagnose and treat them well. I hope to take my learnings from my Bell’s Palsy experience and apply them to the patients that I will one day see.

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