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June 26th, 2013

the war within

By George23

On May 29th 2013, I underwent surgery for a condition known as pectus excavatum. This condition said to occur 1 out of 400 males where the sternum sinks in rather than stepping out. Because of this result, placement of several internal organs are moved such as the heart being pushed to the left side of the body(normally in the center), etc. While having this demon was not life threatening, it took a toll on my body.

Due to the shape of the chest, the heart at times feels like its being crushed into a corner as the sternum is trapping it. There have been cases where it felt as if I was undergoing cardiac arrest. Also with this deformity, I felt it was difficult to breathe at times especially when playing sports I enjoy. I would also experience back pain at times whether or not if its directly related to the pectus excavatum.

I have had this since I was young. Though it was brought to my attention if I wanted to correct this in the past, being that I had no physical complication at the time I simply ignored it. After all, I was just another healthy child regardless of the condition. No problem throughout the years of middle school and high school. It wasn't until last year I would say that I brought attention to it. As I was getting older, I felt the condition was worsening experiencing chest and frequent back pain. Though this was something I can live with for the rest of my life, I thought about the quality of my life. I want to live life to the fullest by traveling abroad or doing the things I love without having to think of the pain. The decision was easy for me to undergo surgery.

The procedure I endured was known as the "Nuss procedure" where they would insert a steel rod across the sternum just below the nipple line. To ensure its stability, the rod would be sewn into the rib cage on each side. Though this surgery did not have huge risks, it sure was painful! Today is exactly 4 weeks post-op and the pain still resides. Very difficult to pick myself up from bed or even raising my hands above my head. Make matters worse, I had gotten a cold and what a battle that is! Coughing or even laughing with a bar inside is no joke at it rattles the bar hitting the still tender bones. This is by far the most excruciating pain as it still strong enough to bring me to my knees.

Things are looking better now though as I'm edging out this battle. However the war is still intact and I must stay strong for another 2 years when they take out this bar.

This whole experience has opened my eyes greatly now as I plan to pursue something in the medical field. Though what I study at UCLA is not at all related to the medical field, I feel this something I'm just as passionate about now. Just as people in the hospital were there for me, I want to do the same for future patients. I want to connect with these individuals and share them my insight as I can tell them about the mental and physical hardship one endures when going through something such as surgery. I will be able to relate to these patients on a personal level as having that trust and comfort with one another will make the experience worth while. I'm taking small steps in getting my foot in the door as I signed up for the UCLA care extenders internship which the orientation is actually later this evening.

This whole experience made me even stronger mentally. Many days of sleepless nights of just pondering by the window. Weeks of captivity in the house not being able to go enjoy the summer with friends and family took a toll on me. Even days of depression of not wanting to do anything, only thinking of will my life be the same again. The war has only just begun and I feel at times I'm on the losing end. But I tell myself, to use this drive towards becoming a nurse/doctor as this story will motivate not only myself, but my peers as well. Though this war between myself has been rough, the strength of friends of family give me that boost of confidence. The bar is a part of me, not the other way around.

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress." -Frederick Douglass

Tags: patient stories, pectus excavatum, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, surgery, Uncategorized

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