If I could travel back to the beginning of this year, I would tell myself to chill out. Of course this is easier said than done, because I was really nervous about leaving home. In high school I spent every waking second with my friends, and I couldn’t imagine parting ways and living completely different lives. I doubted I could find people that I connected with as much. The funny thing about college, at least for me, is that I feel just as close to people I’ve known for a few months than people I’ve known for years. But somewhere in the middle of making new friends, I realized how difficult it was to keep the old ones. If I could go back, I would tell myself that its okay to not keep in touch with everyone. I would also tell myself that I’m not going to fail biochemistry, and that professors who are scary on the first day usually don’t stay that way. Finally, I would tell myself to not forget to do blogposts!
Willowbrook is the largest mental institution in the world, housing 5,300 patients. There are not enough clothes to keep everyone dressed, so patients run around naked. Although it is called a school, less than 20% of patients attend classes. It smells horrible, 100% contract hepatitis, and no one talks to or trains children. The ones that are mentally and physically capable of working outside of the institution are not allowed to, and instead work within the system for a wage of just $2 per week. Sadly, there is no alternative place for parents to send their children.
At the root of this problem is the lack of staffing numbers to care for these patients. The ratio should be 4:1 but instead it is 40:1. However, even when given funding to hire 200 more employees, the new employees were not allowed to change anything about the system. As we discussed in class, once a system is in place it can be hard to see its faults and even harder to fix them. No one was aware of the horrors inside this institution.
People with mental disabilities are too often overlooked and treated unfairly because they cannot advocate for themselves. With the stigma around mental disabilities, it is difficult to find advocates. When asked how long the adequate feeding time per child would be, the reporter responded, “the same amount of time it would take for my children and your children to eat their breakfast.” I think this really speaks to the lack of understanding that people with mental disabilities are still people, with the same basic needs as people without mental disabilities, as they are “more normal than they are abnormal.”
Institutionalizing children is something each parent needs to decide for their own child. Sometimes it is unsafe to keep their child at home, and sometimes parents do not know how to properly care for their child. In California, there is assistance in the community for parents who choose to take care of their child at home. This may be the best of both worlds, because the child is able to stay in the care and love of their parents, while the parents feel supported in their efforts.
Reading it again, I can feel the nervous energy radiating off of my “letter to self.” I was worried about not feeling at home here, and I was really sad to have just said goodbye to my parents. College seemed so different, and it is, but its not as scary as I imagined. I am proud to look back at what I wrote, I wasn’t as stupid as I thought. I promised myself to work hard even if the school of nursing frustrated me, something I will need to continue to promise myself in the semesters ahead. I am most proud of the friends I have made, and the ways we have helped each other.
Sitting down and writing out my legacy is a daunting task for me. I don’t yet fully understand my place in the world, or my mission in life, so how am I to know whether I want to be remembered for my cure of cancer or my solution for world peace? Just kidding (although those would be great). I do know that I want to be remembered more by people that know me than people that hear of me in a textbook. As students hoping to enter the medical field, we all hope to do the most good that we can, whether that means seeing the most patients that we can, researching new medicine as hard as we can, or saving as many lives as we can. And these are all great aspirations. But I believe that it is less important what I do and more important how I do it. When people think of me, I want them to use adverbs and adjectives, not verbs. I want to live a life marked by compassion. If there was something I hope to share with people, it would be the importance of empathy and genuine kindness. Understanding where someone is at and having a genuine desire to meet them where they are and help them out. What do you hope to be remembered for? Any particular career accomplishments you hope to achieve or societal changes you wish to see before you die?