How a Young Doctor-To-Be Discovered that Volunteering Was Great Medicine
When she was diagnosed with MS at age 18, Meruka Gupta was well equipped to fathom the clinical aspects of her new reality. Her mother and many other relatives were doctors; she was a pre-med student; an aunt was already living with MS. Everybody’s questions got asked and answered in a matter of weeks. She went on medication and went back to school.
Only after graduating from New York University did Meruka realize she and her family could have handled the episode better.
“I got a lot of support but in retrospect I don’t think it was the type of support that I needed,” she said. “It just became: This is what it is, this is what you have, you’re going to be fine. Which is great, but sometimes you want — not to wallow in pity — but to have a few days or weeks or months to grieve about being 18 years old and having an illness that you’re going to have for the rest of your life….
“I never really took a break. When I graduated I really needed some time off to understand what I was dealing with.”
She did that by volunteering as an information and referral specialist with the Greater Delaware Valley Chapter. In those eight months, her emotional understanding of MS caught up with her technical understanding.
As an information and referral specialist, Meruka’s job was to take calls from people in the Philadelphia area and point them in the right direction on subjects ranging from medications to fundraising events to insurance. She provided one of the most important services the Society offers, but she considers it an even trade because she gained at least as much as her clients did.
“I only knew about MS from myself, my aunt, and my doctor’s office. I didn’t know anybody else. I learned so much from the other volunteers. Most of them had MS. They were providing so much encouragement and hope for all of these callers who were in so much despair. From the callers I learned so much as well. I don’t think I would ever have learned that much about the disease if I had not been there,” she said.
“I will be forever indebted to them to give back in whatever small way I can.”
Eight years after diagnosis, Meruka was in her second year at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, planning her wedding, and carving out as much time as possible to shop and visit college friends in New York.
“I like to be out and about, because I’m at a desk for most of the day studying,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to get out and just do things that I enjoy.”