What Coding From a Hospital Bed Taught Me

Photo by Martha Dominguez on Unsplash

As Butthead once said: “Beavis, I have seen the top of the mountain and it is good.”

We should all hail him in his infinite wisdom. It’s always the best view from the top. That’s the view I was enjoying for the last three months and it was the vista that I was content to maintain.

My boyfriend at the time had seen an article online in October of 2017 announcing that Google was awarding scholarships for their Grow With Google Developer Challenge. I excitedly and confidently applied for the program and eagerly awaited the decision.

Finally, I had the news my little ears had been longing to hear: I made it! Google loves me!!!

That was my mantra during that journey: Google loves me. It served as both my victorious shout when I succeeded and also my motivational nudge when I struggled. If the mighty Google had faith in me, how could I even possess a sliver of doubt in myself, my abilities, and my strength?

Google also loved me in a very different way. As I noticed some strange physical symptoms appearing, I turned to ‘Doctor Google’ to see what the possibilities were. After seeing the same scary thing crop up in multiple places, I knew it was time to trek into my general practitioner’s office. For the first time in my life, I’d hoped that my guru, Google, was wrong.

My tall and statuesque doctor, who I likened to a wise elven healer, had an intuition that it might be more than we were expecting. She didn’t feel comfortable unless I was seen immediately at the emergency department for diagnostic imaging. A few hours later, I was admitted to the hospital and officially received both Dr. Google and my neurologist’s diagnosis: multiple sclerosis.

The first thing I said was, “Well, it could be worse”. Yes, my brain showed multiple lesions on it. But I didn’t have any masses, no midline shifts, no tumors, and no evidence of hemorrhaging. My brain is “otherwise unremarkable” per the radiologist’s findings. I choose to interpret that as “it’s pretty awesome, with some specks of glitter here and there”.

I laid there in the not-so-comfy bed, trying to come to terms with what was happening. How did I go to the doctor for something seemingly so small to just a few hours later, being told I have an incurable disease that will progressively worsen? MS is unpredictable. There is no cure and it affects each person uniquely, so only time would tell how it would affect me.

I had no control over MS, but I could control my vision, my actions, my determination, and my fight. I decided that it didn’t matter how or why it happened — it only mattered what I chose to do next.

Naturally, I started coding. I began to spruce up my final project of the course: our pixel art maker. As I lay in bed, coding away on Codepen day and night, I realized that I didn’t have to code. I could have remained completely satisfied and not worked on my project anymore. It was complete, functional, and it followed the rubric provided. For me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to code. I needed to code.

I began scribbling away in the notebook my family brought me. I spent hours planning where to put each <div>, the colors to use, and troubleshooting my errors. It’s not easy to code on a phone, but I kept going. With each error or mistake, I was determined to carry on and complete my mission. As soon as I was discharged and I was home, I began coding again on my computer. I spent the next two days working on my project until I was satisfied with the result.

It’s all about perspective. You fall, but you must stand back up. No one wants to hang out in the fires of Mount Doom and dance amid the noxious fumes. Although the smells can’t always be controlled in the hospital (“nurse, please remove this citrus pseudo-gelatin before I cry”), what is in the mind is all-powerful and unlimited and we are the master, the creator, the inventor, and the nurturer.

The aptly hung picture on the wall of my room read: “It always SEEMS impossible until it is DONE.” Coding in a hospital bed certainly taught me patience, but it also taught me that I’m pretty badass and amazing and nothing can hold me back.

Although I no longer carry an MS diagnosis (‘hello’ to a whole new cadre of rare and genetic illnesses and disorders), I still code! I now have my Master of Education in Learning and Technology (Instructional Design) and a Bachelor of Science in Business-Human Resource Management. You can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and BelaGaytan.com.

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Learning experience designer and trainer with strong tech skills. Authentic, transparent, vulnerable. Queer, disabled advocate. Let’s kick ass together!

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Bela Gaytan

Bela Gaytan

Learning experience designer and trainer with strong tech skills. Authentic, transparent, vulnerable. Queer, disabled advocate. Let’s kick ass together!

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