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. Marylin Warner

    Wonderful, troubling, tender post, Carrie.
    For one summer I volunteered at our local hospital, partly to earn service points in National Honor Society, partly to see if nursing school should be in my future. I was fifteen.
    A darling guy who the year before had played basketball and was just the cutest guy ever, was in a corner room when I was serving meals one day. He wasn’t hungry, but said that, just for me, he would eat half of everything on his tray. I waltzed away, loving the idea of being a nurse and helping him…
    I was assigned other chores for several days, and then, finally, I was again assigned to deliver dinner trays. I put on fresh lip gloss and thought of wonderful topics we’d share. I also carried a bag of Snickerdoodle cookies in a plastic bag to give to him.
    His room was empty. He had died that morning of leukemia.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, how sad. What a thing for a 15 year old to face. I’m sure that has stayed fresh in your mind all these years.

      I hope you’re having a nice holiday. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and share your story.

      Like

  2. Red

    Stopping by to wish you a happy Christmas, Carrie. Much happiness in the new year.

    I haven’t an answer to your question. It was before I remember. When I was three, I asked my mother to take all my presents to a family with children down the street because there was nothing under their tree.
    xxx

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, that’s so sweet! You are one of those naturally empathetic people. If only we had more of those in this world.

      Merry Christmas to you too! Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  3. Amy Mak

    Those kind of experiences are jarring – they’re also important reminders. Merry Christmas, Carrie, and here’s to a wonderful new year…

    Like

  4. timkeen40

    Last January, my house was destroyed by a tornado, displacing me and my family. I have maintained a brave front, keeping my attitude positive and instilling into my children that a house is just sticks and mortar and we haven’t lost anything that matters. I do believe that, but as Christmas approached and I realized that we wouldn’t get our home rebuilt in time to have Christmas there. We’d still be in the rental.

    And I was feeling a little sorry for mywself. As the “Man of the House” and all the bullshit that comes with that antiquated sentiment, I was feeling like something of a failure for not having gotten my family home in time for Ho! Ho! Ho!

    Then, less than two weeks ago, a man went to bed with his wife. Sometime during the night, one of their small children had trouble sleeping. He got up, brought the child to his wife, and went to sleep in the child’s room. When the alarm clock went off the next morning, he couldn’t wake her. She was dead.

    She was thirty-one years old with two small children.

    And I am whining because I have to spend Christmas with my family in a rental?

    I can’t even begin to image what that man and his former mother-in-lanw (who works with me as well) must be facing this Christmas.

    Tim

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      What a sad story. Really makes one appreciate what one one has. But I think what your family suffered is also horrible. So sorry to hear that. But I suppose it goes to show that no matter how bad we have it, there’s somebody who has it worse. Thanks for the comment, and I hope you get your home rebuilt soon.

      Like

  5. Valentine Logar

    Thank you Carrie, I am just getting through my backlog of all the Blogs I love and wanted to catch up with. I was feeling very sorry for myself this morning (there are reasons) and this was a stark reminder of all I have to be grateful for.

    I might still have a little pity party for myself later, but it will be balanced with my heartfelt gratitude and your timely reminder.

    If I don’t see you again before the holiday, Merry Christmas.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      We all deserve a pity party from time to time, especially considering the trials you’ve been through. After all, we need time to work through our own issues. But I guess the thing is to not wallow in it for too long as that won’t do our mental health any good. 🙂

      Have a great holiday, Valentine!

      Like

  6. kateshrewsday

    Great post, Carrie: it’s good to have that reality check, so that we can appreciate what we have, however much or little it is. Living for the moment: it makes sense.

    Like

  7. diannegray

    This is very sad, Carrie but also a timely reminder for all of us that little inconveniences like not having the right dress to wear on Christmas day or worrying about presents is nothing compared to what others may be facing.

    Have a wonderful Christmas;) I wanted to make this a longer response, but I’m still on the road (don’t worry, I’m not the one doing the driving!) 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It is a good reminder to not let the little stuff bother us. Plus, we can all have a better Christmas if we’re not focusing on the things that aren’t important.

      Thanks for reading, and have a great Christmas!

      Like

  8. unfetteredbs

    this is a wonderful post –puts life into perspective. thank you for that and Merry Christmas to you and yours Carrie. I am glad that I have stumbled onto your blog

    Like

  9. butimbeautiful

    I do sometimes think it’s not all about me. Not sure I’ve had an actual ‘experience’ as such, but I can get quite self-sacrificing at times for love. I think that’s known as a disease, though. One has to remind oneself, other people have it rough (of course I always tell my kids that, not that they care much. They need their own epiphany).

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Good point. It’s true some people need to be careful, because they aren’t ‘me me me’ enough. They take on the weight of everyone else’s problems, and as you allude to, that’s no good for them.

      And yes, I, too, tell my kids all the time how their troubles pale in comparison to those of others. Whether they get the point or not is anyone’s guess. 🙂

      Like

  10. Pink Ninjabi

    Love the new look of the site! And your writing continues to sharpen and develop in its musings of life with Clip Art to help illustrate humorous points. Love! Love!

    Like

  11. i mayfly

    Wonderful post, Carrie. I know what you mean. Our Best Christmas Ever was the first one after our premature son made his appearance. We were financially and emotionally strapped and a Merry Christmas looked like an impossibility. Instead of looking at what we couldn’t do, we decided to focus on giving what we could – my daughter’s surplus toys and outgrown clothes (barely used), refurbished bicycles (my husband has a gift), retired maternity wardrobe, excess Christmas decorations.
    Merry Christmas, Carrie. xoxo

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s amazing how good giving to others feels, whether it’s in the form of money, possessions, or time.

      Hope you are doing well, and that the holidays won’t be too trying for you after the loss of your brother. Here’s hoping you find some joy. 🙂

      Like

  12. jbw0123

    Found my way here from Audrey Kalman’s blog. Ain’t it the truth about the Big Me? Noisy old soul. What a good reminder to keep working to look outside rather than in. Perspective: hard to find when gazing at navel. Might need to make that into some kind of mantra, having a particularly noisy Me myself. Happy holidays!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It is a ‘noisy old soul,’ isn’t it? Likes to drown out common sense and practicality at times, too. But we have to keep that ‘me’ in check by remembering those who don’t have it so great. Thanks for stopping by to check things out. My posts are usually humor-oriented, but I was feeling a bit morose after last Friday, and this is what squeaked out. 🙂

      Like

  13. iRuniBreathe

    Thanks for this reminder Carrie. It’s easy to forget what we do have when we are overburden with carrying our Gifts. So much of what we lament is actually what would make our lives that much more challenging if we were without. Merry Holidays/Christmas/etc to you!!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      “So much of what we lament is actually what would make our lives that much more challenging if we were without.”—That is so true, isn’t it? Great point, and one I’ll have to remind myself of when I’m whining about my inbox or a tech problem. 🙂

      Like

  14. Martha Merrill Wills

    One of my oldest friends is a pediatric oncologist. I don’t know how she does it. As far as having something to deliver me from self-pity? I don’t know… the lexapro I take daily helps, but sometimes it’s still hard to see the bright side, to snap out of the anxiety of what’s wrong, when you know how much suffering there is in the world.
    Great post Carrie!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s a good point–some of our wallowing may not be due to our own troubles but the troubles of others. It can be hard to snap out of the melancholy that accompanies so much of the world’s tragedies.

      Thanks for your comment, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday. 🙂

      Like

  15. Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

    Hi Carrie – I have seen your gravatar on all the posts I read (via comments and ‘likes’) and decided it was time to check you out. I knew it was the right thing when I saw this post…
    Here is what I am grateful for – it occured on Xmas Eve as well – and it was quite a something. Thank you for all you do for children – we parents are ever grateful for the love you give to our children in need.

    http://themercenaryresearcher.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/smart-boy/

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That was such an amazing story–I’m so glad you led me to it. And I’m thrilled your son made it through so well. Some things can’t be explained medically, and it’s stories like these that give me goosebumps–as a mother, a pediatrician, and a human being. And just think, your experience likely had a huge effect on the residents and students and even Dr. G, just like those children had on me.

      Thank you for stopping by. I must confess, this is a rare serious post for me–usually I go for the laughs. But I still try to offer some substance. Usually… 😉

      Like

      • Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

        There is much substance in HUMOR! I love all those people in my son’s life – we still see them as often as we can….and I’m a sucker for any kind of nurse!!

        One time Dr. G had a resident and Dorian & I were at tne NICU visiting, Dr. G said ‘wait! examined my son, told me to cancel my appointment for the next day and said to his resident – ‘see this child? this is why we never give up’ – I cried ~

        Like

  16. aFrankAngle

    Thanks for telling this wonderful story. Yep – so much of life is about perspective, and hopefully this story helps someone realize that life is not about them. This post is so good, gotta wonder if it will receive special recognition.

    Like

  17. David Stewart

    Wow. Yeah, that would put a new perspective on things. Thank you for sharing, although it’s heart breaking to think about.
    I don’t have an experience like that, but anytime I realize I’m complaining or feeling sorry for myself, I think of one part of my body and thank God it works and isn’t in pain. I have hands and feet that work fine. A lot of people can’t say that.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s interesting, because I kind of do the same thing. For example, if I’m grumbling about having to work out, I remind myself that at least I have two legs that can jump and two arms that can lift weights. Seems like a small thing to think about, but it serves as a nice reality check. Thanks!

      Like

  18. Stacie Chadwick

    Thank you for reminding me what the holidays are really about, Carrie. Why does it take tragedy to remind us of our good fortune?
    Great, goosebumpy post.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Stacie. It’s so easy to slip into the ‘me’ mindset. Every morning as I’m grumbling about having to get up, I try to think of something I’m grateful for instead of worrying about the things I need to do. And then I try to follow up every mental whine throughout the day similarly. I’m not always good about it, but I find I get better with practice. 🙂

      Have a great Christmas or whatever your holiday of choice is!

      Like

  19. Vanessa Chapman

    The thing that ALWAYS reduces me to tears when I think about it, and therefore has the effect you describe, is an incident that happened in the UK about 15 years ago. A school principal was killed by some teenagers that he confronted on the school grounds – it happened just before Christmas and the thing that makes me cry (I’m crying now!) is that he had a couple of young sons, and one of the sons wrote a letter to Santa afterwards which the mother released to the press which said “Dear Santa, I’ve changed my mind about what I want for Christmas, I did want a telescope but now I want my Daddy back because I wouldn’t be able to see the stars without him anyway.”

    I defy anybody not to cry at that! Oh dear, I must go and find a funny blog post to read somewhere now…

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, that is heartbreaking. I’m sure Christmas was never the same again for that boy. Sorry to dredge up the sadness, but I suppose we all need to remember things like this from time to time. But you’re right–now it’s time to go find something funny. 🙂

      Like

  20. frederick anderson

    Its in our nature, isn’t it? The human race was built upon conflicting egos and its unlikely to change. Every time I turn a street corner and see one of those clothes huddles by the wall sheltering from the rain I remind myself how narrow is the path. Hideous accidents of birth or fate exist all around us – I had a friend with leukemia who had a brilliant career as an architect laid out before him and a wife of six months when he was diagnosed.

    My greatest hero might well be Stephen Hawkinge. A man of extraordinary strength and defiance.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, things can change in little more than a moment. It’s so easy to get caught up in the status quo, that we need to remember to stop for a gratitude check from time to time.

      Thanks, Frederick. Have a great holiday. 🙂

      Like

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