The word “family” can bring to mind varied images: a brother and sister running after each other in the park, a mother and father reading bedtime stories to their children, or a reunion of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins gathering around the campfire and reminiscing. We can all think of similar occasions in our lives where have spent quality time with our families, who are often our closest advisors and well-wishers. But, does a family need to be a group of people who are blood-related? Or is there a deeper, heartfelt meaning to this familiar word that we tend to overlook? While these questions rattled through my mind, observations at the hospital have allowed me to discover the true essence of family and the role that it plays in the context of pain and sickness.
Before I became a hospital volunteer, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to be exposed to the stories and experiences of so many people, many of whom have shaped the way that I see the world today. In particular, a group of patients who I regularly escorted to bingo sessions at the hospital taught me to look at life from a different perspective. These patients were different ages, genders, of varied cultural backgrounds, were battling different ailments, and seemed overall to be a very diverse group of people. However, at every session, they would stick together, always laughing and trying to put a smile on each other’s faces. As I observed each week, I started to grow fond of the harmony of the group and the affection that they displayed toward each other. With their bubbly personalities and joy, it seemed as if no problem or worry could ever touch them.
However, when one patient’s situation became critical, things took a turn. No longer able to attend the bingo sessions, the patient was left alone in her hospital room. Sensing the patient’s sadness and despair, the group decided that they would bring bingo to their friend rather than attend the session without her. Along with the help of several other volunteers, we were able to set up a small table with bingo cards in the patient’s room, allowing for the group to play together. The smile that crossed the patient’s face warmed the room. I was amazed by the initiative that the group took for their friend and the care that they displayed for one another.
What surprised me the most, however, was what I heard while they were playing in the room. Rather than addressing each other by their names, each patient coined a familial term for another. One was a father, another a mother, sister, brother, grandfather, and the list went on. They had essentially created a family through their group with each person serving a different role. Although not biologically related, they wanted to act as strong supporters for each other during a time in which optimism and hope is of utmost importance. They never once voiced fear or complaints about their diseases or brought up how long they had to live. I strongly believe that this is because of the social support group that they created for themselves. Every day, they had the opportunity to feel the love of a group of well-wishers, an emotion which can truly eliminate sorrow. And that is what a family is, not necessarily a group of people who are related to each other by birth, but a group of people who can relate to each other through love, affection, and perpetual care. Walking out of that room, I realized that there is more to the word “family” than I had thought. There is more to a disease than just the negative toll that it can take upon an individual. Disease can cause completely different people to come together. Disease can engender newfound compassion and kindness amongst people. And disease can be conquered with a little bit of support from the people around you, a lesson which will remain near and true to my heart.
About Anisha Guda
Anisha is going to be a sophomore in the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Facilitated Acceptance to Medical Education (FAME) Program this fall. She is majoring in Biology and is very involved both inside and outside the classroom. As the President of the One Campus Challenge Organization on her campus, she strives to mobilize students to fight against extreme poverty and the global AIDS epidemic. In addition, she serves as a Blood Drive Coordinator for the American Red Cross and works to provide services to disaster victims in her area.
Her passion for writing has led her to take on several initiatives including the establishment of a blog that allows for the distribution of ideas amongst students in several other BS/MD Programs. Additionally, she is planning to launch a platform by which creative arts programs can be integrated into hospitals and clinics in her community so that she can share her love for the arts with others. Currently, Anisha is a research intern in the Department of Neurosurgery in the School of Medicine in San Antonio.