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  • Nikhita Lavu

Expect the Unexpected

Updated: Feb 3

February 20th, 2012; a chaotic mess of a day. All I wanted was to take a nap in my comfy, little room, but instead, I was met with screams, a pounding head, frantic parents, and the blaring sirens of the ambulance and police cars headed to my house. When I asked Santa the previous year, for a surprise, I wasn’t expecting my very own, personalized arteriovenous malformation.

The next few years of my life were defined by my five-month hospital stay. The high expectations that my teachers once had for me were replaced with aides monitoring my every move and the concern that I wouldn’t be able to pass my classes. Would the girl who missed half of third grade remember how to answer reading comprehension questions or even know how to identify the organs in the digestive system? Would she remember how to write in cursive? I said goodbye to the Gifted Reach Out program and reluctantly welcomed the Extra-Help Math and Reading classes. I was now one of the kids I never, in a million years, would’ve seen myself becoming.

So, I swore off hospitals; they brought back memories I never wanted to resurface. I put my all into my studies and worked the hardest I had ever before, to go back to the girl everyone admired. Little did I know, at the time, that would never be possible: I had already changed for the better, and there was no going back.

High school soon rolled around, and I decided to dedicate the extra time on my hands to volunteering. I spent hours upon hours researching positions at my local animal shelter, the library, and even our Kumon, but my efforts were to no avail. That was, until I received a call from a Mr. White, inquiring about my interest in becoming a “Teen Volunteer” at Saint Barnabas Hospital. I wasn’t able to focus on anything besides that one word he uttered: hospital. I was preparing myself to turn him down, but at the last minute, I confirmed my interest, completely shocking myself. I was unable to throw away this opportunity after hearing how this man, my future manager, had gone through something very similar to my head injury and was still able to be content in the place that reminded him of all that he could have lost.

Ten years later from the moment that changed the course of my life, I have returned to the hospital, not as the person in need of help, but the one providing the help. Although I once vowed to never step foot in a hospital, the feeling of fulfillment I get when I help yet another patient leave the hospital, is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world. Seeing the smiles of everyone at Saint Barnabas reminds me over and over again of everything I have to be grateful for. I don’t just feel content in this building, I feel happiness. In the past two years, I have met some of the kindest people, and I have given back to my community in ways I never thought possible. I have connected with strangers from the Surgery Center over something as simple as the weather and laughed at jokes with the nurses at the nurses’ station. It has only taken me 9 years and volunteering at Saint Barnabas, but I’ve realized that if all the patients can persevere, so can I. I can’t change anything in my past, but I can move on stronger than ever, and that is all thanks to Saint Barnabas.


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