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Authentic Eagles: Olivia Carlino on Conquering Fear

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic individuals.

Olivia Carlino, CSON '15

On the outside, looks can be deceiving. To others I have always seemed a confident and resilient person, with set goals and an attitude strong enough to withstand all. But on the inside, I felt weak; for most of my life, I feared every day that I would leave my family, friends, and peers behind with no warning in sight.

When I was four months old I was diagnosed with anaphylaxis to milk, eggs and nuts. In short this means if I were to ingest, or even touch foods containing these ingredients, I could die from a loss of oxygen. I cannot have cake or pizza, or eat in the dining hall or a restaurant. I could not study abroad. And I cannot touch my elbows to a table without a pestering cluster of hives developing on my arms. Some don’t quite understand how I live with these restrictions, but those are miniscule facets of my life compared to the gut-wrenching fear that consumes me. Waking up and wondering if today would be the day that someone else’s snack might be my poison was exhausting. “Will this ever end? Will I ever feel like I can finally breathe?” With high stakes and high hopes, there was a possibility I would physically overcome this condition, and my allergies would affect me no longer. Sadly when I was 18 years old this was no longer an option my foreseeable future. As crushing as it was, at least the doctor finally had an answer to my life-long question: no, this will never end - every day you will live in fear of death, and you cannot escape the skin you are in.

What now? How could I continue living knowing well that something as small as a drop of milk could end my whole life? I felt trapped with no plan as to how I could ever be happy living in a body I so much despised. As I was leaving the hospital after hearing this news, waves of hopelessness and anguish swallowed me. But suddenly it hit me: there are people in this hospital who are incredibly sick. It was then I realized how lucky I was compared to others, and that I could not take what I had for granted. I could walk, talk, and see - things that are trivial to most, but in reality are a privilege I soon began to appreciate. I then made the decision to study nursing.

Almost immediately, I began to feel as though I was in control, and my fear was not. If I have the ability to serve others in this way, fear cannot impede me. Aiding others through the most vulnerable times in their lives made me understand that I could not let this fear overwhelm me. The acceptance of my allergies, that once felt so out of reach, was becoming stronger with each new patient I cared for. I was slowly transforming into a person for others. Being with the other nurses at Boston College has shown me that exceptional men and women exist, and I am proud to be surrounded by such remarkable people. Nursing allows a person to provide a shoulder for others to lean on; it is indescribably rewarding.

During my care of a dying patient, his wife once said to me, “You have had an unforgettable presence and spirit throughout my husband’s illness…and for that I am sure, in the midst of his ending days, that I am still lucky.” She will never forget me, and I will never forget her, or this patient. Because of moments like this, I have learned to conquer. Now, I can live my days wondering what the next will bring, instead of worrying if there will be a tomorrow.

This positive transformation has led me to become a stronger nurse, friend, peer and daughter. While my allergies still come with their hardships, I am able to see the good. Today, I live with my allergies, happily knowing that I have saved lives, and will save many more  Becoming a nurse has helped me to accept my condition. The fear is still present, but it does not overpower. I am no longer weak. I am the confident, resilient person I was intended to be.

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