The Night I Realized It Wasn’t All About Me

Human beings are egocentric by nature. We start that way as infants, become even more me me me as toddlers, and then gradually shift to less self-centeredness over time. Or at least we try to.

But despite the acquired knowledge of our coexistence with others (we must share, wait our turn, put others before ourselves), we still view the world through individual, myopic lenses. In other words, it’s still about me, me, me.

One Christmas, many years ago, an epiphany shattered my own egocentric bubble. I was working as a pediatric intern, and fatigue and melancholy were my fashion du jour. Heightening my discontent was my December rotation—pediatric oncology.

So there I was on Christmas Eve, facing three every-other-night calls in a row and spending the days in an exhausted stupor:

“Oh, I’m so tired.”

“It’s not fair I have to miss out on Christmas.”

“I wish I was home with my husband.”

Boo hoo. Poor Carrie. Sniffle sniffle. Sob sob.

As I moped and pouted my way through the Christmas Eve shift, two new oncology cases awakened the quiet emergency room, one shortly after the other. The first was a teenage honor student with severe leukemia.* His white blood cell count was so high, his blood risked forming a sludge.

The second was a limp toddler, cradled in her mother’s arms. The mother entered the ER begging for help, saying the local doctors thought her baby just had a virus; but she knew something else must be wrong. She was right. Another case of leukemia. In fact, the child’s blood cell lines were so low, it was amazing she remained conscious.

My oncology attending raced in from home, and although tests to help determine prognosis were still days away, given early pathology smears, he predicted the youngest would reach remission. With tears in his eyes and a hitch in his voice, he said the oldest would likely not see next Christmas.

Suddenly, having to work my celebrated holiday seemed a laughable inconvenience at best. At least I could go home after my shift. At least I had my health. At least I’d see future Christmases.

I banished my whining right then and there, and even today, that moment remains my self-pity gauge. Whenever I think I’ve got it rough, I remember those children and their parents on that Christmas Eve, and my attitude quickly adjusts. Certainly, there are horrible events around the world—some all too recent—that make us appreciate what we have. But this one was up close and personal, and is forever etched in my mind.

I’d like to say the honor student made it to his next Christmas. Despite the efforts of a stellar oncology and nursing staff, he did not. I don’t write this to burden you—our hearts are heavy enough—but to remind myself to always be grateful for what and for whom I have.

What about you? Do you have a memorable event that serves as your self-pity gauge?

Have a safe and glorious holiday. See you in a week. And I promise, I’ll try to bring the funny back…

*Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells that starts in the bone marrow. Bone marrow produces three types of blood cells: white blood cells (to help fight infection), red blood cells (to oxygenate our body), and platelets (to clot our blood). Leukemia involves over-production of the white blood cell line, but over time, the abnormal white cells crowd out the normal blood cells in the bone marrow, until all three cell lines are affected.

All images from Microsoft Clip Art

**Note** Even though it was many years ago, I changed some demographic information to protect the parties involved.

192 Responses to “The Night I Realized It Wasn’t All About Me”

  1. Ralph

    Thank you Carrie. I was led straight here tonight. Your story is wonderful but because of this post I am understanding what my Spanish Doctor told me. Thank you xox

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

      And this weekend it certainly won’t be all about me. I’m off in 5 minutes to take my son to a magic festival for the next few days. He’ll be in heaven. 🙂

      Like

  2. Val

    Nothing specifically that serves as a self-pity guage, but when I was a child I spent a lot of time in hospital with asthma and other breathing problems and experienced the whole life and death saga so many times with babies and other children suddenly ‘vanishing’ from the ward – and figuring it out for myself (also my late father was a doctor who frequently and patiently explained things to me) that that’s always been with me. It’s truly tragic when children are terminally ill. My heart always goes out to them – and their families – as it’s been doing since I was a wee thing myself.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It is tragic when a child dies. Nothing makes me appreciate more what I have than that, and it puts my own life in perspective, that’s for sure. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate it. 🙂

      Like

  3. Adam S

    Carrie,
    As I was reading this, I started to vividly recall a memory I have of my Grandmother being in the hospital. It was about a week before Christmas two years ago. She was 96 years old at the time.

    It was extremely cold that year and I was really stressed out because of the holidays. It didn’t help that I was overworked, either. My Grandma had had a stroke, and her health declined from that point on.

    At first, there was this selfish voice in my head that did nothing but piss and moan about having to deal with it during the holidays. It was an inconvenience. Every night after work I’d go to the hospital and sit with her and the rest of my family. It was always really quiet. Comfortable, actually. We all talked about how my Grandma had been the “family glue”. Without her, the extended family probably would have never seen each other. It seemed appropriate that we were all together in that room.

    For the first few visits she was coherent. She wasn’t talking at the time, but she could signal with her hands. It was like trying to play charades. She seemed to have a sense of humor about it too — despite her condition.

    As it got closer to Christmas she started to slip. She eventually went into a coma. The last night I sat there and held her hand knowing that it would be the last time I could do that. That’s when all of the other bullshit that I was concerned about really became trivial.

    I realized at that point just how important she’d always been to both me and the family. Admittedly, there were times when I’d taken her for granted. It felt like she would always be there…

    She died that night. But, in a strange way her passing was almost like a gift — one last gift from her. It wasn’t one that needed to bought or wrapped. It was better. It was like a home video — a week of spending time with someone that I loved very much, and a week of revisiting all of the memories that we created together.

    My pity party ended couple nights into it. What began as a burdening experience ended in the celebration of a life that meant very much to me.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      What a wonderful story. I’ve done that too–put my own inconveniences before the other person’s plight until, like you, it dawns on me that I’m overlooking the big picture, and if I don’t get with it, I’ll miss out on what’s important. And now you’ll always have that week to remember her by, and how lucky you both were to have each other at the end. Thanks so much for passing on that story. I make light here a lot, but after the CT shootings, my fingers typed out something more serious with this post.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  4. Elyse

    Carrie, this post was a beautiful reminder of everything we all have. Thanks for posting it.

    I’ve seen you around the comment pages of lots of my blogging buddies, but when I posted that I had opened a page on my blog for books written by blogging buddies, Guapola recommended your book.

    As a fake medical professional, this book looks like something I will just love, so I will be ordering it. But it’s also on the list at http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/bloggin-buddy-books/ (even though I haven’t read it yet). I hope you don’t mind.

    Happy New Year.

    Elyse

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      How nice of you, Elyse! The blogging community never ceases to amaze me. I have a page like that myself of the books I’ve read, but to put me on there even before reading my book is very thoughtful of you. I’m so glad you stopped by. I peeked in on your ‘about’ page, and was interested to learn you are a medical researcher. I was headed down the research path myself after years in primary care medicine when I took this writing detour. Have you published any books? If so, please direct me to them. 🙂

      Thank you again. Is much appreciated!

      Like

      • Elyse

        Sigh. I have only published in my dreams. But I am a fake medical professional. I work as a medical writer, writing about adverse events from drugs — more translating into English what folks who know what they’re talking about say. Cause my science education stopped with 9th Grade Biology! But shhhhhhh…..

        Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. How horrible that must have been. And yes, I imagine that really does put things in perspective. Thank you for commenting. Your words make me remember to appreciate what I have.

      Like

  5. Denise Hisey

    There are always those to envy, and there are always those worse off than me. I decided long ago it’s up to me to choose between envy and gratitude.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      How true. I like that. I’ve never had much use for envy. I figure if you want something to happen, then try to make it so.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  6. G M Barlean

    Beautifully written. A good reminder to us all. Thank you Carrie. I wish I’d have read this earlier. It would have been just what I needed. I tend to be so gloomy over holidays and this would have really been perfect medicine. I still can’t believe I’m not getting any notices for your posts! I’ve really got a bee in my bonnet about that!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Haha. Well, don’t let that bee sting you; it’s no big deal, although I always enjoy seeing your lovely face. I don’t post that often, so it’s not like you missed too much. Glad you enjoyed this one. I was feeling a bit morose after the CT school shooting, and I just couldn’t find much humor.

      Like

  7. acflory

    I think for me, it was the arrival of The Daughter that really did it. For the first time I began to take a real interest in world affairs because I suddenly knew that /she/ needed a safe world in which to grow up.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s so true. Having a child drops the egocentrism to a whole new level. Of course, it also ratchets up the stress since we start to imagine all the horrible things that can go wrong.

      Excellent point.

      Like

      • acflory

        -grin- The imagination settles down after a few years [about 18], but then you start thinking about grandchildren and great grandchildren and…. -rolls eyes-

        Like

  8. Arizona girl

    I defintely need to be better about appreciating what I have and realizing that many of my ‘problems’ are luxury problems. I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones!

    Like

  9. eof737

    A sad but important reminder to cherish the life we have and to remember to be gracious… ¸.•*¨*•.♪♫♫♪ 😆 Merry Chritmas! 😆 .♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♥
    ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜” ♥ ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜”
    Eliz

    Like

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