Finding My Next of Kin

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It was about a year ago when I was eagerly researching MSc programmes and filling out applications. This involved long hours of researching comparable programmes and writing essays about how pursuing a masters would help me fulfil my dreams of managing federal offices to contribute to positive changes in healthcare systems. One of the factors that clearly differentiated the MSc in International Health Management (IHM) from other programmes was how students and staff used the term “family” to describe the closeness of the cohort. I was somewhat surprised when I first read this term. When I thought of business schools, the words “cut-throat” and “stressful” immediately came to my mind. I was thankful that “community” was emphasised over a term such as “competitive.” Knowing that the experience of being a Residential Advisor and building community for 40 freshmen was the most defining experience of my undergraduate career, I was especially intrigued by everything I read on Imperial’s website regarding the “IHM family” experience.

Fast forward to the end of January 2016…I wake up on a Saturday morning feeling extremely fatigued and sick to my stomach. I text my classmate, Miriam, and tell her I need to go to the hospital but need help getting there. Before even asking her to come, Miriam arrives at the door of my flat. She helps get me out of bed, looks up the closest hospital, and manages to get me out of the building and into an Uber. We arrive at the A&E of Chelsea Westminster where Miriam graciously holds my hospital-issued “throw up bowl” (note: true friends hold other friend’s throw up bowls) and waits for four hours with me to see a consultant. Although I am in pain, the time passes quickly because Miriam and I are constantly laughing. We are relating what we learned the previous day in our Management Challenges of Healthcare Organisations’ lecture on A&E queues to our current experience. Sometimes hospital management might intentionally make the experience uncomfortable (i.e. cold temperatures and hard seats) to ward off people who might not need to see a medical professional…to say the least, it was a very fitting lecture and prepared us for the discomforts of A&E’s.

After numerous blood tests, I am admitted as an inpatient and given my hospital gown (and special green compression socks) and wheeled to a bed in a women’s ward. Miriam walks to my flat and collects some belongings that will make the hospital stay a bit more pleasant. After returning, she sits by the bed until the end of visiting hours and then arrives bright and early the next day along with a few other classmates. Not only are classmates like Chun-Wei incredibly caring but they know the right questions to ask consultants and nurses because of their clinical backgrounds. They read over my vitals and make sure I am being well taken care of by hospital staff. This is especially beneficial for me since I feel weak without eating and cannot think clearly enough to make the most of the few minutes I have with medical consultants. With my family unable to come from the United States, I legally sign off a few IHMers as “my next of kin” so that they can act as family members would on my behalf. `

Over the next few days, I am cheered up by the countless text messages, phone calls, and visits I receive from fellow IHMers. I am especially happy when a group of my classmates come to visit and all surprise me with packs of gum (since I am not allowed to eat, I’m chewing a lot of gum to feel “full”). Another classmate, Meric, provides me with magazines and access to her Netflix account so that I am entertained by more than just the 94-year-old lady who I am sharing a hospital room with…Meric also helps me stay on top of all of my coursework by sending me lecture notes and keeping me updated with what happens in class. When my friend Maria arrives back from being out of the country, she immediately comes to the hospital, despite her jet lag from an eight-hour plane ride. Maria joins the pack of Meric, Miriam, and Chun-Wei who are constantly at my bedside, surprising me with gifts (i.e. flowers, books, magazines, stuffed animals), acting as my advocate, and keeping me company. In fact, Maria visits so much that by the end of the week, the once full bottle of hand sanitiser at the end of my bed is almost completely empty from her use…

As the week passes, I continue to be more in awe of my caring classmates and Programme Director, Dr. Baggy Cox, who comes to visit me. From helping me put on my green socks to braiding my hair/painting my nails to make me feel less “hospital-like,” they brightened up the ward each day. I really appreciated texting Meric the day I had to drink two litres of a special colon cleansing drink. If her encouraging words and memes hadn’t come my way, I don’t know how I would have managed with that disgusting beverage. It was reassuring to have Meric and several other classmates waiting for me when I came out of the colonoscopy the next day. Seeing their smiling faces in the visitor room made the unpleasantness of the whole 24 hours before disappear.

As discussed in coursework and now confirmed by my own experience, hospitalisation is never a happy situation. There are many unknowns, delays, and frustrations involved. However, the good outweighed the bad over the course of my week in the hospital. I was constantly overwhelmed by the kindness of my classmates, who despite being full-time postgraduate students and having other commitments, made time to visit. Several relationships strengthened and solidified while hospitalised, and after checking out of Chelsea Westminster on Friday, I finally felt like I had found my place/next of kin at Imperial.

Special thanks to Chun-Wei, Claudia, Constantina, Filippo, Maria, Melissa, Meric, Miriam, Rachel, Samiha, and Sriya!

Carissa is studying our MSc International Health Management programme.

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Carissa Gilbert

About Carissa Gilbert

MSc International Health Management student
MSc International Health Management student