Thanks to his dad and the TV show House, Jose, 14, has decided that he wants to help others.
What do you wanna be when you grow up?” My mom would ask me that every day throughout junior high. Mostly I shrugged it off. But it wasn’t just her. Other family members asked, too. Even though it bothered me (especially that they expected a detailed answer), I knew they had good intentions. I’d always reply that I wasn’t really sure yet, but that I was considering becoming a lawyer, since I would be the first one in the family, or a doctor, because I liked the TV show House and my dad’s a doctor. Obviously I wasn’t sure, but that was enough for them. Little did I know that my answer just meant to get my family off my back would become something I’d seriously consider.
I never expected a TV show to influence my life and help me figure out what career I wanted, but that’s what House did. The medical mysteries featured on the series showed me how interesting a medical career could be. The brilliant character, Dr. Gregory House, breaks down the stereotype of a doctor as uptight and always serious. The medical discussions would keep my eyes stuck to the TV while House would sneak in these rude, abrasive, intelligent and hilarious comments to colleagues and patients. He acted as though he didn’t care what people thought of him.
“You guys are still thinking like doctors when you should be thinking like plumbers. Come on, I wanna see some butt crack,” is a typical funny House joke. Or “Sorry, I already met this month’s quota of useless tests for stubborn idiots.”
I thought that even a sarcastic person like me could be a doctor. One of the most interesting cases was of a mentally handicapped pianist who suffered from Takayasu’s Arteritis, which caused an irregularity in the blood vessels in his brain. The sickness somehow caused the man to become a piano-playing prodigy. How could someone become such an amazing pianist just by getting hit hard on the head as a kid? I couldn’t believe that House and the other doctors discovered that being able to name which notes were being played on a piano just by hearing them and playing a piece of music perfectly after hearing it once were symptoms of brain damage.
After watching House, I saw how fast-paced a doctor’s job could be and was so interested in the medical puzzles that I was serioulsy starting to consider a medical career.
I got to see my dad at work in a hospital
But even though I really like House, the biggest reason I want to be a doctor is my father. In the summer of 2006 I visited my dad, who is a doctor living in the city of Balanga in the Philippines, and was inspired by how he does his work every day. When my dad told me that I would be spending time at the hospital with him, I suddenly felt excited and nervous. I’d been watching House for a few months and hospitals were shown as extremely hectic. Obviously I didn’t expect to see the same cases as the ones on House (those are very rare), but just being in a hospital would satisfy my curiosity about medicine. I was a little nervous, too, because this wasn’t a television show, these patients were sick for real and some of them could actually die.
I accompanied my dad two to three times a week during his shift at the hospital. I’d arrive around 10 p.m., which was in the middle of my dad’s shift, and leave around 7 a.m. when it ended. I slept for part of the time I was there. It was a small hospital, unlike the hospitals I’d seen on TV, but the intensity of a hospital is the same.
As I passed through the halls of the hospital and made my way to the doctors’ quarters, I saw the nurses and interns who worked hard to assist the doctors. I also saw my dad’s minute-by-minute routines such as his duty in the emergency room, where he would tend to patients who just arrived and were either injured or ill. It was impressive to see how calmly he juggled questions from nurses, paperwork and the patients. Sometimes it would be very quiet in the emergency room and then it would get very busy, but he remained cool and collected. I know this small hospital and the patients with minor illnesses or injuries weren’t very House-like, but the experience didn’t disappoint me. People treated my dad with great respect, which was something I wanted in a job someday.
During the night he’d come into the doctors’ quarters and either sleep or we’d start talking about what had happened on his shift. I knew that he was tired and that came with his job, so I was fine with not getting a tour of the hospital or shadowing him. I knew it was important that he get sleep when he could. Nurses would say over the intercom, “Doctor can you please come to the ER” or wherever he was needed, about five times a night (and this was while I was awake). Since the hospital was small, there was only one doctor on call, so he had to answer every nurse’s call. He’d drag himself out of bed wearing jeans, a collared shirt and a lab coat and go.
I could see that he was obviously tired, with bags under his eyes and a drowsy expression. Most people wouldn’t want to be woken in the middle of the night to go back to work, but he never complained. This is what he was devoted to. Seeing him go through that day in and day out inspired me and helped me decide that I wanted to become a doctor.
On the way home from his night shift in the hospital, we would walk through the quiet streets as the sun rose, and joke around about anything funny that happened to him in the hospital or something I had heard on TV that night. I was surprised that he seemed so awake like he could’ve kept working. I admired his stamina and that he was working hard all night to make sure that the city stayed healthy and to save lives.
Before this visit, my dad’s job as a doctor never captured my interest. (That answer to my mom was just to get her off my back.) As a kid, I had resented how his job kept him away. For the three-plus years I lived in the Philippines (I moved there with my dad when I was 6 and came back to the United States when I was 10), my dad usually spent more than half of each day in a hospital, studying and working hard to become a doctor. I would’ve preferred to have him at home with me. However, I always understood (even at age 10) that he had to work and how demanding his job was.
After my trip last year, I wanted to know whether I really wanted to become a doctor. So I signed up to volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for the summer. I was assigned to work in the Saperstein Critical Care Tower. I worked on the fourth floor, which was dedicated to patients suffering from heart problems. I felt lucky that I got a job where I could deal with patients directly. Some people were stuck in the gift shop or in other clerical jobs.
I realized on my first day at Cedars-Sinai that I was working in a place where patients could die any second. I was now one of the staff, and I felt that in some way their lives also depended on how I did my job. It’s not like when I volunteered at the Fairfax branch of the library. If I made a mistake that meant a book got misplaced and I’d have to put it in the right place. I suddenly wasn’t sure if I could handle this responsibility. But then I remembered how inspiring it was seeing how calmly my dad handled all of his responsibilities. If I really want to be a doctor someday, I thought, I should be able to handle the duties I have as a volunteer.
Even as a volunteer I felt I made a difference
During my first four-hour shift I answered calls from throughout the hospital, tended to patient requests, delivered water and snacks, and sent staff for each patient’s specific needs. I also had to make sure that each patient’s chart had enough space for the nurses and the doctors to write in additional notes or orders by adding in extra pages for certain sections. With each page I added, I felt that the doctors’ and nurses’ jobs would be easier.
For most of my first day, I was busy, but when I wasn’t I could feel each second pass by as I anticipated something about to happen, which brought back my nervousness. It gave me the chills. I was so terrified that I decided to step into the visitor’s area to take a break and catch my breath.
For some reason, looking down on the streets from the giant window in the visitor’s area helped me calm down. I realized how important the hospital was to the people inside it and outside. If they got sick, they depended on the doctors and nurses to treat them so that they could go back to their everyday lives. It made me proud to be working alongside these people, even if in the smallest way.
Halfway through that first shift I finally felt at home working alongside the medical professionals walking past me or rushing to their patients. Wearing the white scrubs helped me feel like I was where I belonged.
The best part of the internship was when they needed my help to transfer a patient because I got to see the rest of the hospital. The least interesting parts were when nothing was happening. Unlike the first day, instead of being scared, I was bored. Then again, every job has its good and bad parts.
Now when I watch House, I pay attention to every line of dialogue and every detail of the surroundings. And every now and then my mom still asks me what I want to be, just to check if I’ve changed my mind about being a doctor. The answer hasn’t changed, but now I’m not just saying it to get her off my back. Now, I really mean it.
For more information about the Cedars-Sinai Teen Volunteer Program go to www.csmc.edu/7031.html or call (310) 423-8044.