Leaving a Foot in the Door

This post is a bit overdue from the previous, but I did leave some thoughts on the table in that previous post.  As I write this post, I am amidst ending my full time presence at Sibley (for now) and am transitioning to my next adventure in medical school.  I am so thankful to Sibley and the Hub and each and every one of you for this past year-plus, because it has been more impactful than I could ever describe with words.  Each of you have forever changed the way I look at the world.  So, all I will say is thank you, and I hope you enjoy the post! 

Transitioning from one journey to another—taking one foot out and putting a new one in somewhere else—is one of the hardest things to do.  We are forced to move from one wide open door to another that is open just a crack.  We are given all this time to reflect on beginnings—how little, innocuous things can lead to big, impactful ones—suddenly recognizing some of the buds that have blossomed and bloomed beyond any of our original expectations. 

So, when did I first put my foot into Sibley’s journey?  I started as a volunteer—intimidated by the number of people in the hospital and still anxiously wondering if healthcare was where I wanted to be.  Thankfully, as always, the people here calmed me.  Marianne and Jonna were kind enough to find me an assignment even though I was late in signing up.  Mimi showed me the hospital in what proved to be the first of many wonderful, caring moments.  I still have my 3887 volunteer ID number pasted on the back of my badge, so I don’t forget where it all began! 

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That start proved to be the beginning of an irreplaceable period of time for me.  It was that little thing that led to something larger than I could have imagined.  But, behind the "when", there is also a "why".  Why did I decide to put my foot in the door of healthcare and then the Hub?

A core, foundational piece was losing my mom—to me she exemplifies the beauty and burden of unending selflessness.  Even as she paved her way through lung and brain surgery, radiation, chemo, and endless appointments, she never showed a crack in her armor or passion to take care of others.  Through thick and thin, she fought both cancer and the attention that being sick inevitably brings.  She never wavered in who she was and who she wanted to be.    

Through it all, she and I never really talked about it together—she cared for me, I cared for her, and she cared for me some more.  I watched her carry the burden of it all, fighting to protect others from the situation.  As she continued to decline, I stayed quiet.  I wasn’t really sure what to do.  I refused to believe the inevitable, even when she started hospice.  We just continued to care for one another.  She and I never figured out how to face the spotlight shining upon us—to face the situation.      

Over the years, I still wonder about the conversation that never happened.  I wonder about how or who or what would have opened that dialogue.  I fear what we would have said.  I don't even know what we would have talked about.  Maybe she didn’t want to share that with me or maybe I wouldn’t have been able to accept it, but I wish someone or something had at least built the bridge that we could then decide to walk across.  No matter how tough, I do think it was a conversation that should have happened.          

But, I can see why it didn’t happen.  I can see why this is all so tough.  No matter the treatment or the diagnosis, there are so many other factors that come along with that medical spotlight—so many burdens and unknowns for the person who is ill and the people there to support.  Going through it all with my mom was my first glimpse of that.  Whether it was getting her to appointments, or going through signing a power of attorney, or worrying about the financial stuff, there are moments that are nearly impossible to prepare for and even harder to feel like you can do them well.  Because of that, I think we fear that spotlight.  It means change.  It forces us to do things we are not used to or comfortable with.  It brings attention that we do not ask for.  Nowadays, the medicines and the treatments available give us more time to avoid the spotlight, but we must be careful not to believe that we can avoid it altogether. 

One of the most powerful things I have learned in my time at Sibley has been that there is an alternative approach to that spotlight.  You can face it head on.  Every moment I have spent in the Hub has been in some way about hearing people and making them feel heard—turning their stories into voices for action, turning solitary moments into moments of community, turning pain points into empowering ones.  It encourages the dialogue.  It needs the dialogue.  It builds the bridge that we can then walk across.  It channels the messages of Being Mortal or When Breath Becomes Air.  It provides that vital yet far less available care.        

The courage to have the conversations and to truly listen are values that I will carry forward.  I will continue to hear the Sibley voices comforting and motivating me.  I can feel the unending spirit of helping every person every time.  

As I said at the beginning, transitioning is hard.  Facing new challenges is hard.  But, I find comfort in knowing that—although things change—the people we meet, their stories, their passions, and their lessons are forever with us.  The door is always open, even if just a crack.  

Andrew Yin — ayin4@jhmi.edu

be you, be strong, be brave