Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 3, 2011

I am what I am to become

It wasn't the senior year I expected

By Brooke Hagen
Special to the Record-Eagle

— ThumpthUMPTHUMP beats my heart, adrenaline surges, little drops of sweat bead up on my forehead. The room gets really small. I'm waiting for the white-coated doctor to deliver my diagnosis: "I have bad news. You've tested positive for numerous connective tissue diseases."

The words took their time leaving his lips. I froze and, even though I could not see my face, I know it turned whiter than his lab coat.

Months earlier small bumps grew on my feet, and thus began the long process that led that doctor to speak those scary words. One prick of my arm determined how my senior year played out.

Beginning last November I have been from doctor to doctor to doctor, up to around 20 of them, in numerous different offices, in two different hospitals. During this medical forensic odyssey, I felt like some walking crime scene that doctors struggled to nail down. I was poked, prodded, squeezed, bent forward, backward and sideways, and blood sampled until my veins drained dry. The parade of white coats listened, nodded and scribbled a lot.

Not the carefree senior year I had expected. All in the face of homework, missed tests, the gauntlet of senior year deadlines ... none of this waited for me.

The numbingly numerous doctor visits and tests resulted in one serious answer: I am afflicted with various connective tissue diseases. That means my cells will attack themselves. I hear scary words like "organ failure," "skin hardening," "compromised immune system," "blood constriction," "vascular disorder," "muscle and joint complications." There is no cure.

But despite everything behind me and in front of me, this ordeal has reaffirmed my career choice. I will be a doctor, specifically, a rheumatologist. This specialty deals with joints, muscles and connective tissues. I will become the kind of doctor I will have to see most of the rest of my life.

I am what I am to become.

My mom says there is a reason this is happening to me. God works in strange ways indeed.

Brooke Hagen was editor-in-chief of the Black and Gold at Traverse City Central High School 2010-2011. She now attends Michigan State University.