My Favorite Superheroes Wear White Coats and Scrubs


When I ask you to name your favorite superhero, which hero comes to mind? Is it Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman or Iron Man?

All the recent blockbuster movies seem to be based on the world of superheroes. This month we are preparing for the release of “Justice League,” right off the heels of “Wonder Woman.” But what makes us so obsessed with superheroes? Is it that they are something we aren’t, or that they posses superpowers for which we can only hope? Is it that they bring good to the world while fighting the bad? Whatever the draw of the superhero is, these movies would not be the blockbusters they are without the active audience (and sometimes overzealous fan base) who are taken with them.

Some of my earliest memories involve appointments and staying at the children’s hospital in Oakland. In my first memories of crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, I remember being in the backseat of our family car, my father driving and my mother a passenger. I remember them telling me as we drove through the carpool lane, “Sit up tall, Elaine. Really tall so they can see you.” The carpool lane was for three or more and I wasn’t very tall because I was only about 4-years-old. The Transamerica building was one of my favorite sites as we drove into the city. As we drove over the bridge, it was a staple of our drive. It meant we were almost there, to the doctor’s office, to see my pediatric specialist. As a child the drive from my home to San Francisco felt like hours when in fact it was only about 45 minutes.

You see, I grew up sick: doctor appointments, blood draws and medicine were my norm. My favorite childhood stuffed animal was a Doctor Snoopy. He was a gift from my parents during one of my stays at the children’s hospital. While other children had teddy bears, I had Doctor Snoopy and we were inseparable. Doctor Snoopy is still one of my favorites. He is very special to my journey.

It was as a child that my superheroes became my medical team. While other children dreamt of becoming firefighters, police officers and teachers…I dreamt of becoming a doctor, a nurse or a phlebotomist. My superhero was Dr. Leonard, who made doctor appointments less scary by making them fun. I truly believed he saw a cat and dog in my ears.

Phlebotomists were the most amazing superheroes in my eyes. While most children were asked to look away, I was always curious and they let me see what they were doing when I asked to look. At the end of their job, I got a special band-aid.

These experiences bring me to today. Although my childhood disease was not rheumatoid arthritis (RA), when I got “sick” about nine years ago, it was not a foreign concept for me to be ill and to be part of the medical world. Rheumatoid arthritis brought me right back to the superheroes of my childhood.

You see, my superheroes wear white coats and scrubs. And for many of us that live in the “sick” world, our medical superheroes possess many of the traits that fictional superheroes possess.

My rheumatologist gives of himself more than any patient could ask, he thinks beyond the box to develop a level of treatment and care specialized to me. The nurses often ease the tension asking about my personal life and they have a special eye that sees when I am not being truthful about my level of pain. The phlebotomist, who I now ask for by name, makes blood draws end in a smile.

“Elaine, Dr. Rheumatologist is only requesting six vials today, do you think he forgot to check a few boxes?”

“If he did, let’s not tell him,” I respond.

And, there is also the pharmacy superhero who I see almost on a weekly basis. She has a special place on my team since she is the one that figures things out that others may miss, like the time she discovered I was sensitive to an additive in a medication I was prescribed.

So, as a chronic illness warrior, my Justice League looks a little different, but my superheroes really have many of the same traits that the general public has come to admire in fictional characters. My superheroes just wear white coats and scrubs instead of capes and masks.

And for the record, my favorite fictional superhero is Iron Man. Unlike some other superheroes, he’s not an alien or possesses superhuman powers. He’s just a very wealthy man who put his mind to creating a medical device to keep himself alive. The iron suit just happens to be a side effect he uses to fight crime. I guess you could call him a version of a medical superhero.

So, next time you’re seeing the nurse, doctor, phlebotomist, or pharmacist, take a closer look behind the title to look for the superhero and say “thanks,” because these superheroes don’t hide behind a secret identity. They are always there, looking out for your health in ways that are pretty super.

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Thinkstock Image By: RedlineVector

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