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.