I was born with a condition that makes a good portion of my red blood cells spherical shaped. A normal red blood cell is biconcave shape. (This condition is called Hereditary Spherocytosis, for those of you who are interested. You can just say ‘H.S.’) These circular cells are flagged as “damaged” by my body and they get chewed up by my spleen and liver. Mostly my spleen. And then my bone marrow has to work overtime to make up for all these red blood cells that are being destroyed. (I feel super bad for my bone marrow. I know what it’s like to work long hours and have that be my life: I’m a medical student.)
Mostly what it means for me is that I’m generally anemic—which reflexively makes me tired just thinking about the word—but it also means when you pull down my lower eyelid (not that you would), you see yellow or white in an area that’s supposed to be pink. Medical students love to find this fact out about me, because they all stand around and look under my eyelid thinking it’s the coolest thing to have a patient-med-student in their class. Sometimes the whites of my eyes can look a little yellow. And my lips get blue quite easily, and people ask me if I’m cyanotic.
It also means I take 1 mg of folic acid, which has to be prescribed for me unless I want to swallow a bunch of pills every day from a drug-store’s lower-dosed folic acid bottle. I’m supposed to get fatigued a lot, on account of not having enough oxygen circulating around my body all the time. But usually, if I eat right and exercise and have a general feeling of wellbeing, my energy levels are great. (Oh, and coffee. Energy drinks used to help me but they taste like gasoline and I just can’t.)
When I was six, I was hospitalized because I needed a blood transfusion. Not much to report there; I’m labeled a “poor historian” in my medical charts, but it’s actually not my fault. For example, I only found out a few years ago (in my mid-20s) that I had seizures as a baby.
I’m child number four (out of five siblings), so I think by the time I came around, there was just too much noise to keep track of. I get it. Well, I do now, anyway. I was pretty pissed when I found out. Mostly because I also had a history of being a “baby scientist” and exploring my environment:
For example, at age three, I figured out that if you stick nail scissors in an electrical socket, it creates a spark. I also learned that it’s wrong to eat too many grape-flavored chewable Tylenol, and the aftermath is a chaotic scene of an adult who panics and yells until someone brings home a bottle of Ipecac syrup for you to gulp down until you vomit. (Ipecac was a syrup used in 1990 to induce vomiting in children who swallowed poison/things they shouldn’t. They’ve since discontinued Ipecac, but not grape-flavored Children’s Chewable Tylenol. Weird.)
In any case, I somehow made it out of my toddler years alive. I’ve had boyfriends joke about the small dent in the back of my head from when I rolled off a bed as a baby. I’m telling you, in a house full of people, someone gets forgotten. Although, it could have also been from the time I played hokey-pokey in an empty bathtub while waiting for my mom to come give me a bath. “You put your head in, you put your head out…” Yeah. What on earth was I thinking as a toddler? I should have known better.
While I was reminding my family members to pay attention to me so that I don’t die, my dad was starting his medical career – his own private practice as a medical doctor.
So, I think it’s safe to say that I will wait to have my own baby scientists. I want to be there to watch their experiments from hypothesis to conclusion. (And to interject if need be.) I also will make sure to keep their medical charts and gift it to them when they graduate high school or college.
Needless to say, the result of having “knowledge holes” in my medical history has resulted in me feeling extra passionate about understanding how our body works, why we function the way we do and what we can do to lead a healthier, happier lifestyle.