The heat pressed against my skin on a humid June afternoon. Carrying change in one hand and bubble tea in the other, my grandmother and I strolled through downtown Taipei with the rest of our relatives, accompanied by dashing vehicles and lavish glass buildings.
Her death caused me to recognize that my purpose lies in pursuing medicine.
As the only members of our extended family outside of Taiwan, my nuclear family and I took the annual trip from Minnesota back to our homeland that renewed my fading early childhood memories of bustling Taipei.
Jetlag compelled me to wake up at the crack of dawn, which luckily coincided with my grandmother’s daily trek up the luscious mountains right down the block. She was invariably eager to bring my brother and I along. Although my grandma was agile for her age, our youthful bodies bounded steps ahead on hills.
As years passed, I never thought the next time I’d see my grandmother would be on her deathbed.
The summer before I began ninth grade, we learned that my grandmother had undergone a spinal surgery to offset the rapid deterioration of her legs. What had been a risky procedure to begin with did little to help her prognosis.
My brother and I followed my parents on their next flight to Taiwan while she went under the knife for a second time.
The trip up the hospital elevator ticked by in silence, everyone avoiding eye contact. A blast of cold air whipped my face as the doors opened to the intensive care unit. Snapping on latex gloves, face masks and hospital gowns, we anxiously waited in the hall to enter her room, only two allowed in at once.
The first time I walked in, the shrill beeping of heavy equipment filled my ears, and thick trails of IVs sprawled on the floor. The rugged stench of rubber from my gloves clung in the air and my stomach churned to the ceaseless beeps. My heart crashed at the sight of my grandmother, immobile in a gray bed. Her lively spirit lied paralyzed, indistinguishable with jaundice and blackened fingers. I idled in shock the five minutes I was with her, conscientiously meeting her eyes, incapable of digesting the severity this situation had reached.
I left my grandma in a daze as a doctor somberly welcomed us into a room. There I learned that the initial surgery left her with a grazed spine and a pierced stomach, leaving the rest of the organs in her torso to collapse and wither. Her blood had turned toxic.
The doctor spouted more medical vocabulary. Hesitating, he paused. “I’m afraid there is no chance of recovery,” he apologized. His statement hung in the air as he continued, and eventually his words dissolved into white noise.
During my following visits, I stumbled over the right words to express to her. Her pain-enduring eyes masked with perseverance recurred through my mind hours after leaving the hospital. I still yearned for a miracle to occur in the two weeks leading up to her passing.
Because Taiwan is a moderately accelerated nation, I struggled to comprehend that the one-out-of-a-million failed victim of this risky operation was someone important to me, my 71-yearold grandmother.
After the visit, under the dimming sky, I descended the mountain without my grandma. I realized how much one loss affected multiple people. The buzz of cicadas dwindled as I neared the house. The streetlight gradually flickered out. I could only picture her last breath in the lonely hospital room, fading out to the slowing beep of her heartbeat. At that moment, I yearned for the chance to recompense my grandma in any way.
My grandmother was a sole person, but she acquired dreams and goals throughout her lifetime. Until then I never understood how small changes created big differences—like how every life matters on this Earth. Her death caused me to recognize that my purpose lies in pursuing medicine.
Even today, our knowledge of human health is not enough to save everyone. My impact may not be big, but I want to contribute to the gradual advancement of critical medical care. My aspiration is to help as many people as possible experience life’s potential.