By Evan Kuma
When I was young, we’d often play a game in the yard that involved a group of us going around in turns and saying what superpower we’d want bestowed upon us in the event of some freak occurrence. A group of friends, we would all come up with the best of powers, and elaborate ways in which to use them. Super strength, so you could lift a car up above your head, super speed so you could dodge a bullet or X ray vision so you could see who was hiding behind a brick wall. But not me, no. I would often wish for invisibility. You wouldn’t need to be super strong, super-fast or have X-ray vision, I reasoned, if you could be invisible. When I look back now, I realise how naive we all were, that is, until recently. Maybe that superpower I had wished for as a young child was finally granted to me in my third year of medicine.
It’s like any other day, walking through the wards, stethoscope around my neck and clipboard in hand; have take a history or do an exam today, I remind myself. I walk past the nurse and smile – he’s busy scanning in medications and so he doesn’t realise I’ve walked past. That’s fine, everyone’s busy in a hospital. I know that, so I shrug it off and walk into the meeting area where the ward round team assembles every morning. This is a busy morning like any other – the intern is busy printing lists, the registrar chasing up on night cases, and the consultant – where is the consultant? So, I move to the side and stand, waiting for the bustle of the morning to play out. The team slowly starts to assemble, everyone caught up in their own world, and it strikes me – how is everyone so preoccupied that they forget to say hello? By this point, my superpower is pretty much tried and tested, I am invisible. The consultant comes in and we leave for rounds. There’s a lot of us at this point, so fitting in the room is tough – let me just stand to the side and watch. Rendered invisible again. When we move to the final room, I decide to use my superpower to stand at the foot of the patient’s bed – I’ll be fine here, no one can see me anyway! As the consult finishes and the team empties out of the room, I decide to stay and talk with the patient – she looks sad and I figure she could use some company. And the strangest thing happens – she sees me. As I sit and talk, she tells me her story; why she’s come in, what’s on her mind and where she plans to go. No WWQQAA can guide you in this conversation between two strangers bonding over their shared humanity. As I get up to leave, I hold her hand to say goodbye. She smiles at me and I smile back, and in that moment something spectacular happens.
This is my revelation – I wait for the sound of ethereal bells or some wise old man to float in and give me a cape – but this doesn’t happen – the change is within. I’ve realised something, something that has taken a while to happen – I am a superhero, but my superpower isn’t invisibility. Maybe my superpower is the ability to push through tough days and continue to smile? Or maybe it’s the superpower to know when I’m feeling burnt out and take time to myself. In truth, I don’t know what it is, but I’ve learnt that even in the toughest of days, even in the days when it feels like no one can see you, the patient still does. Maybe it’s because they feel the same- doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and ancillary services all coursing in and out of the room, yet they still feel invisible.
I’m glad that we both saw each other that day, I’m glad I was reminded of why I choose the path I did and I’m glad that I finally realised that being invisible wasn’t my superpower after all.