A woman with Turner syndrome decides to participate in a study at the National Institutes of Health:

“I arrived at the NIH Clinical Center alone, early, and unprepared. The nurse responsible for checking me in wasn’t even on duty yet. I had packed my suitcase as if for a four-day business conference, not a hospital stay—slacks, blouses, and pumps rather than T-shirts, sweats, and tennis shoes. That was probably a function of my denial as well as my ‘don’t leave home without lipstick’ impulse. I’d never spent a night in a hospital, never had an MRI or CT scan.

“People generally don’t go to NIH when they have a garden-variety illness. NIH takes the sickest of the sick and offers hope. Old and young gather there. The common denominator is illness—the kind so serious that it generates platitudes and whispers. To be a patient at NIH feels like being a contestant on a reality show in which all the cameras are turned on you—or being a lottery winner when the prize is assuming a large debt at a huge interest rate.”


As a bonus, read Steedly’s blog post about how her essay, which she worked on in a writing class in 2007, ended up being published in the Washingtonian.