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Why I Take Hospital Selfies

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In today’s me-focused, social media-saturated culture, it might seem like everyone uses any moment, whether it is appropriate or not, for a photo opportunity. I don’t know about you, but I personally try not to spend my time in public photographing myself.

That said, I am guilty of taking my phone out to send a quick Snapchat if, say, my hair looks really good on my way to work. But that’s rare, since my hair doesn’t really do much other than be straight or slightly wavy.

Ilana's non-hospital selfie

What’s strange then is that I have the tendency to take selfies at the hospital, whether I am in the emergency room or in for a procedure. Looking back through the camera roll on my phone, I have quite the collection of hospital selfies.

Ilana's most recent selfie in the hospital

The photos mostly feature my sarcastic twisty face (see below). I think that part of the reason why I take them is somehow in defiance. I might be in this place I really don’t like, but I’m still me.

selfie of Ilana making her 'twisty face' in the hospital

Honestly, a lot of them are taken out of sheer boredom, killing time waiting for doctors or nurses. Before my recent surgery, I had the tiny Dumbo plush my stepdad had given me in my hospital bag. While I was waiting to be taken into the operating room, I was using the poor elephant as a stress ball. For some reason, I decided to put it on my head and sent a silly selfie to my boyfriend — because what else is there to do when you’re waiting to get operated on?

Ilana's selfie in the hospital with her stuffed elephant

Unlike the classic “look at me!” selfie, these are not about how good I look. I’m not wearing any makeup, I have dark circles under my eyes, my hair is usually piled on top of my head and no one looks good in a hospital gown.

Ilana's selfie in the hospital with the caption 'Stylin'

You’ll notice that in most of these photos I have an earbud in, since music is both my coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety-provoking situations as well as my standard form of entertainment. Some of the photos feature my boyfriend, since he has had the privilege over the past year and a half of accompanying me to more than his fair share of emergency room visits and procedures.

Ilana's selfie with her boyfriend in the hospital

At first I was shy about anyone beyond my close friends seeing these photos, but when I started writing for The Mighty and sharing my stories, I realized these photos are storytelling tools as much as my words are.

According to my boyfriend, when I send him one of my defiant hospital selfies, he doesn’t notice my hospital gown or IV. What strikes him is how strong I look. (That’s his word, not mine.) That did get me thinking though. I obviously don’t feel strong in those moments. I often feel weak, tired and scared. But somehow what comes through in the photograph is my determination to get past the latest hurdle.

The photos also serve as a kind of picture diary for myself when I look back at them. I don’t have a photo from every step of my health journey, but I have a lot. They help me see that while my experiences with illness don’t define me, they are still a big part of my life and my history. And why shouldn’t I want to document that?

I do hope that at some point this will only be one chapter in my story, and that my camera roll will be filled with more selfies like the following, taken at my favorite place in the world: the beach!

Ilana's selfie on the beach

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Originally published: October 21, 2016
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