HOW I FOUND MY RHYTHM WHEN THE MUSIC STOPPED

At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.

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THE MAN IN A BLUE SARONG

I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.

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PATIENT “OWNERSHIP”

I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.

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me that he would not let me drop out of college, because he wanted to see me walk across the stage at my college graduation ceremony and make him proud. I continued with my undergraduate studies despite the stress that it put on me and my family being away. My dad’s mother stepped in as his primary caretaker, moving in with him so she could physically be there for him at all times and allow me to continue my undergraduate studies uninterrupted, essential for me to graduate on time. I worked full-time, living paycheck to paycheck to afford to stay in college and travel to my dad every weekend. Despite this, we all recognized that without a college degree, I would not be able to adequately support and provide for my family in the future, so I pressed onward. Throughout college, I continued to drive three hours each way on weekends and used every holiday break to take care of my dad. This also gave my grandmother a break from her caretaker duties and allowed her to spend time on her own wellness.


Since my dad’s accident, our family has been through an unbelievable amount of physical, emotional, and financial stress. Despite working full time, studying and traveling home every weekend, I met my future husband during undergraduate training.  I graduated early in three years as planned with my Bachelor of Science degree, and because of this my husband and I were able to graduate the same year and apply to medical school together. We continued to work full time the following year in order to save money for medical school applications, and fortunately were accepted into the same program. During medical school my husband was supportive and understanding of the sacrifices necessary in taking care of my family and was my constant reminder that these sacrifices were not actually sacrifices but what families are supposed to do: take care of one another. We applied for residency and successfully as a couple marched into the Internal Medicine Residency at University of Kentucky. We are now second year residents and look forward to embarking on our next journey together, fellowship.


My father’s injury serves as a constant reminder of what I have sacrificed to study medicine, but it also reminds me how grateful I am for the support of my husband, grandmother, and father during these unfortunate circumstances. Throughout everything I discovered a strength I had never known. Being a family member of a quadriplegic provides me with an innate sense of understanding for patients and their respective situations, for which I can definitely empathize. While my father’s condition is dire, he is but one of many in this world who needs a passionate doctor that can provide quality care. I am thankful for the support of my family and the bond that keeps our family strong. I am thankful that I stayed the path to becoming a physician despite these circumstances, as these sacrifices have led me to the person I am today.

On August 30th, 2009 I was sitting in my college dorm room when I received a call that would change my life forever.


I was told my dad had been in a tragic accident and I should find a way to the hospital immediately. I hurriedly packed and my best friend drove me to the hospital three hours away. When I arrived, I found out that my father was in an unfortunate accident that would forever leave him paralyzed from the chest down—a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.  It was in that crucial first week in the ICU, as I watched my previously invincible father lie helplessly in the hospital bed, that I realized our lives would never be the same.


Spinal cord injuries affect multiple organ systems and autonomics, necessitating immersive involvement in every facet of care. Because of this, my dad was transferred to a rehabilitation center which specialized in spinal cord injuries. I took time away from my undergraduate studies to be with my dad during his transition from the ICU to rehab, serving as an intermediary between family members and friends and attempting to improve communication and understanding of his condition. He spent several months in rehab which was further complicated by a wound necessitating surgical correction before coming home. In that time, our family and friends spent countless days collectively transforming our home in order to make it wheelchair-accessible for my dad’s return.


When he arrived home from rehab it was far from an easy transition. His condition physically limited his freedom, making him fully reliant

BY RACHEL P. GOODWIN, DO

on other people to take care of him. He went from a physically fit man who worked hard all of his life; constantly putting others first, to a C5 quadriplegic who no longer had the use of his hands and necessitated constant assistance. He required daily skilled nursing care, which was unfortunately not an option for us, thus he leaned on family members like me to take turns performing his activities of daily living with the occasional home health nurse helping out a few times per week. It took several months of wound care, high nursing turnover and inconsistencies in his routine until finally he was able to establish a routine that was physically doable between family and nursing.


Unexpectedly, after 23 years of marriage, my mother left my dad within that first year. She hired a moving company who packed up half of everything in the house and called me on the phone to let me know she left and would not be coming back. Suddenly, my dad’s care became my responsibility. She told me that everything would be fine because I would be there to take care of him, assuming I would drop out of college to do so. With an absentee mother, I was now a 19-year-old college student left with a decision—would I leave college to move back home and become the primary caretaker for my dad, or would I stay in college and continue on the path towards a career in medicine? This is when my dad told

RACHEL P. GOODWIN, DO

Dr. Goodwin is a PGY-2 Internal Medicine Resident at University of Kentucky Medical Center. She was born and raised in Nashville, TN, completed her undergraduate training at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN and then attended Lincoln Memorial University- DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine for medical training. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two German Shepherds, Hunter and Remi.