Senior Josh Mabazza practices empathy in the medical field

White walls. White sheets. White scrubs. Flushed faces. The hospital roars with energy as a patient’s bed is hastily rolled to the operating room, where the tension is thick enough to impair any average person. But these are no average people. The nurses steadily hand the tools to the surgeon who performs the operation with unwavering hands. Hours later, the room is quiet. The patient is sleeping. The life is saved. Surgeons, doctors, and nurses leave for the night, undeterred by the horror, wonder, and intensity that to them is just another night’s work. They return to their families, their hobbies, and their lives. Because beyond each life-saver, there is a dynamic life. Beyond each calm, composed, and professional medic, there is a vibrant personality.

One of these personalities belongs to senior Josh Mabazza. Josh is a lively guy with a bubbly sense of humor and a very friendly personality. He has a way of treating everyone like they’re his friend. To the outward eye, he might just seem like a happy and friendly teenager. But Josh is also a CNA — a certified nurses assistant — with a passion for the medical field.

Josh comes from a long line of medical professionals. His grandma was an army nurse, and his two aunts are both nurses. Josh’s mother is a nurse practitioner and his father is an ICU nurse. He also has many other family members in other medical or pharmaceutical careers, including his Grandfather, Galo Mabazza, who was a physician.

“Most of my family is in [the medical field.] I think it’s in our blood,” Galo says.

Josh says that he can describe himself as a “medical legacy,” but also acknowledges that his passion for the medical field isn’t fed to him like medicine through an IV.  It’s something he’s chosen for himself. He says that much of his medical passion began with the idea of carrying on his family legacy, but over time he began to feel overwhelmingly passionate about it on a personal level.

“In medicine, you are exposed. The doctors are exposed, nurses are exposed, patients are definitely exposed and like other careers are just, you know, in that little box cubicle,” Josh says. Medicine is just so freeing and eye-opening. It’s just so different,” Josh says.

Mabazza
Josh (center) and his friends Liza (left) and Afreen (right) present a cow heart dissection for Welcome to the Pack Night on April 11th of this year. “This is why I love medicine so much because one, it’s science and science is always changing and it never stops changing and two, just the relationships that you make with other people. It’s just, I think, is one of the most open careers that you could have,” Josh says. Photo courtesy of Josh Mabazza.

Josh says that he believes the medical world is completely unique, and that he can’t wait to be a part of it.  When he was sixteen, he obtained his CNA license at Waubonsee Community College after covering all the basics of nursing: anatomy, physiology, ethics, hand washing, and PPE (or Personal Protective Equipment). His excitement for the future is evident as he enthusiastically discusses his love for nursing and medicine, taking frequent pauses as he gathers his thoughts before continuing with a smile.

As he explained, Josh is still a high school student, so he isn’t actively working in a hospital right now. However, he exercises his medical knowledge by spending many of his weekends taking care of his grandparents, who are retired and living alone. Through his close relationship with his grandparents, he’s developed a strong love for elderly care, citing that as one of his biggest passions. When Josh talks about his grandparents, his face lights up and he can’t help but smile. It’s clear that he loves them very much.

“Me being able to [spend time] with my grandparents, it kind of gives you that joy when you’re with other elderly people because I know [some teenagers] who haven’t lived with their grandparents and the way they interact with the elderly is completely different,” Josh says.

Josh’s relationship with his grandparents goes very far back, all the way back to his early childhood when he lived with them in the Phillipines. His grandparents, Galo and Thelma Mabazza, helped raise him, and they mentioned that they remember driving him to and from school and spending frequent time with him. When talking about Josh, Galo’s voice lights up. It’s clear that he’s more than willing to brag about his grandson. His voice rings joyfully through the phone after taking the occasional pause to confer with Thelma.

“We are still very close, and we love that we’re so close to him,” Galo says.

Galo went on to say that he and his wife are very grateful that Josh continues to visit them on a regular basis. He said that both of them greatly enjoy their visits with Josh, and that they’re proud of the teenager he’s grown up to be. They said that Josh is always caring, loving, and respectful.

“Josh is very jolly,” Galo begins, citing Josh’s outgoing and bubbly personality.  “We talk about his future, and he’s very caring for us.”

Being with his grandparents and spending time with the patients Josh served as part of his CNA training has given him a broadened perspective of people and their needs. Empathy is something Josh emphasizes heavily, stating multiple times that his connection to the people he serves has helped him realize just how powerful a medical career can be. Josh especially believes that senior citizens are a group that deserves attention, respect, and empathy because of how much they have to offer.

“[A lot of old people] are veterans and they have so many stories, like war stories, fleeing home, trying to flee from home, and just all those stories. [It’s encapsulated] into those people. It’s just like a firsthand experience of history. It’s like I’m able to hear history and see history with my own eyes,” Josh says.

Josh lowers his eyes as he recalls one particular story about one of the residents he cared for as an assignment for one of his CNA classes. He remembers that the man suffered from dementia, and that he really missed his six children. The man was constantly asking Josh if he knew when his kids would visit. Josh remembers feeling a strong sense of sadness, watching the days go by without a single visit from the children the man seemed to care so much about. He says that he wishes more people would go out of their way to respect and care for the elderly, especially their elderly parents.

“You have to respect that even though they’re old, that they’re still alive. And that’s the thing, people don’t experience that gift until their parents are dead,” Josh says. “And it’s like: Why? You literally lived with them your whole life and they’re still living and yet you want to ignore them.”

Josh cites his Asian culture as a major contributing factor when it comes to his love for elderly care. He says that in Asian households, senior citizens are typically highly respected and are usually cared for by members of their own family. Galo emphasized that point, stating that a close family relationships are a very important part of their Filipino culture. That idea is something that inspires Josh, the idea that medicine can be less about what one does for themselves and more about what they do for others.

“I’m not trying to brag,” Josh says modestly, referring to the skills he carries that have helped him with nursing. “But about on average 25% of people who go into med school and nursing school eventually drop out and that rate is very high in nursing and medicine. Because it’s such a commitment and that’s the thing that I believe I possess, is that commitment to pursue that field.”

Josh’s down-to-earth personality is very evident, and it’s clear that he can easily relate to the average teenager. However, he acknowledges that the characteristics one needs for a successful career in the medical field are characteristics that only manifest themselves in a select group of people. There are many things that separates Josh from his peers. These things are skills and ideas he has gleaned from his experience in medicine.  

Part of Josh’s medical training included proper hand-washing skills, and he has a hard time watching other teenagers wash their hands in the bathroom because they always do it wrong. When discussing this particular subject, Josh cringes as he thinks about all the germs that his fellow students might be unknowingly emitting out into the world. When Josh washes his hands, he uses a technique that involves intertwining his fingers in order to effectively target all the germs that might be there. He guages it by singing “Chasing Cars” from Grey’s Anatomy in his head two times, so that the total amount of elapsed time is about 4 minutes.

“[Important skills are] just being self-aware [of your environment], of others, of yourself. The other skills, the more technical skills, everyone can learn [those]. Everyone can learn how to wash your hands properly. Everyone can learn how to put on protective gear. It’s just a whole patient interaction; If you’re not cut out [for it,] if your character is not cut out for that kind of job, then you won’t make it through,” Josh says.

“In medicine, you are exposed. The doctors are exposed, nurses are exposed, patients are definitely exposed and, like, other careers are just, you know, in that little box cubicle. Medicine is just so freeing and eye-opening. It’s just so different.”

One of Josh’s most notable experiences as a CNA happened when he was assigned to one particular lady for his clinicals. He laughs as he recalls the incident, and he cites it as one of the funniest and strangest things that’s happened to him as a CNA. Josh says that the lady suffered from dementia, and she actually began to digress into who she was when she was younger. She started flirting with Josh and batting her eyes at him during lunch and saying things that made him slightly uncomfortable. But he was able to laugh it off.

“It’s just, it’s such an awkward moment, but you just can’t help but laugh and make it like the best situation you can. So why not make it funny like that? That’s also part of medicine, you can white lie to an extent, just as long as it doesn’t harm the patient. So I didn’t harm the patient obviously,” Josh says. “Yeah, you just play along because they have dementia. To be respectful, you have to go with what they remember.”

When asked about instances where he doubted his ability to eventually become a nurse, Josh takes a short minute to think. Immediately after laughing about his experience with the lady who flirted with him, his face darkens as he looks to the ground to gather his thoughts. But he knows precisely which moment he wanted to discuss. Josh describes it as a “one second” instance, a sliver of doubt that was soon engulfed by his desire to overcome it. But the doubt was there nevertheless. He begins to tell the story, a story about a time when one of the patients he was assigned to was beginning to pass away. He says that he could feel the atmosphere changing as the patient’s relatives began to surround them on their death bed. Josh’s voice slows down as he discusses this particular story, as he’s pulling the painful details out of the past.

“I remember they were talking [the] day [I was there,]  and then the next day of clinicals I come in and the family is there and [the patient] is  almost gone,” Josh says. “You’re just like, can I handle this on a daily basis? And then you think to yourself, oh, but I did everything that I could.”

Doing everything you can: that’s what medicine is all about. Josh says that he believes that true humanity is shown in people when they take the time to connect and emphasize with people they’re serving, while simultaneously realizing that sometimes you can only do so much for someone.

“You have to show your humanity and that you care. But you also have to distance yourself from the problem. The whole gray area in medicine is that if you get too empathetic than their death affects mostly you and that kind of hinders the whole patient care status,” Josh says. “And it makes you doubt yourself as a provider. That’s not good for anyone, but if you don’t empathize enough, it’s like why are you even there? If you don’t care, why would you do it?”

From the sounds of it, Josh knows precisely why he’s doing it.

And East understands precisely why Josh had to be awarded the school’s Science Department Award at the May 14th Senior Awards Night.

Not that Josh needed it. He already possesses the accolades that he deserves, and they don’t sit on a shelf nor hang from his neck.

Alison Standish is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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