Love, albinism and a pink Littmann

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I met my girlfriend, Aisling, when we were studying together in Chicago, at UChicago. I was majoring in psychology and she was studying medicine. I was really nervous leaving home and going to college. Even though I like to think that I’m a confident guy, living with a condition like albinism that so obviously marks you out as different from everyone else around you is hard and can take a toll on your self-esteem. As a result, I had been worried about leaving my home, my school and my friends and having to get to know a new city and new people. Would I face any stigma or discrimination? Would I be treated differently by other students who might not have come across albinism before?

I soon found out that I shouldn’t have worried. People had come from all sorts of different backgrounds, and I met many students struggling with health problems or disabilities during my studies. I made a great group of friends pretty quickly; a group of us living on the same floor of our student accommodation hit it off from the beginning. One weekend, I needed a lift out of town (as I’ve mentioned on this site before, my albinism affects my eyesight meaning that I don’t drive) and Aisling offered to drive me. This was our first real opportunity to talk one to one, and we realized we had so much to talk about! We started dating shortly afterward and have been together for almost three years now.

It was Aisling’s birthday recently, and I wanted to get her something that would help her with her clinical placement. It might sound corny, but I decided that I would buy her a stethoscope. Now, you might be thinking, ‘that doesn’t sound very romantic’, but listen to my reasoning. I wanted to buy her an excellent quality device, something comparable to an expensive watch or a pen, something that she would be proud to use at work every day.

I didn’t know anything about stethoscopes (and, believe me, there is a lot to know!), so I had to do quite a bit of research to find something suitable. I wanted to give her something that she could use for years, so I was looking for a good quality device. I knew that it was imperative for her to have the right tools to do her job properly. Luckily, I’m friends with a lot of Aisling’s fellow students so that I could ask them for advice and guidance. They recommended that I look for a reliable acoustic stethoscope, one that had excellent acoustic performance and was versatile enough to deal with the wide variety of patients and conditions that a medical student will come across during their training.

The stethoscope that came up again and again was the Littmann Classic III. It provides great acoustic performance at both low and high frequencies. Its durability and reliability means that it was great value for money as Aisling will be able to use it for years.

Aisling’s friends said that they put on and take off their stethoscopes a great deal throughout the day and the last thing I wanted was a set that irritated Aisling’s ears or, even worse, didn’t effectively isolate the sounds from the patients’ body. The Littman Classic III has a carefully designed headset with the right amount of tension to ensure that the stethoscope stays in place, but not too much so as to be uncomfortable. Its dual lumen tube design also really effectively cuts out interference from background noise.

The Littman Classic III has other unique design features. By applying different amounts of pressure, you can hear different sound frequencies. Light pressure allows Aisling to hear low-frequency sounds while applying greater pressure picks up lower frequencies. These, coupled with the dual-sided chest piece for both adult and child patients, makes the Littmann Classic III a uniquely versatile tool.

Aisling was delighted with her Littmann Classic III (did I mention that they make them in pink, her favorite color? This also helps her identify which stethoscope is hers). It works perfectly, has a good weight and looks amazing! This really is the perfect gift for any medical student.


Living with Albinism –for those who never dare to ask me about it

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I have what’s known as type 1 oculocutaneous albinism. This means that I have little to no pigmentation (a chemical called melanin) in my hair or skin. It also affects the level of pigment in my eyes and, consequently, my eyesight.

There are a lot of misconceptions about people with albinism. As a rule, we prefer to be referred to as ‘people with albinism’ rather than ‘albinos,’ this sounds like you’re objectifying us. Living in the US, you come across a range of people whose knowledge of albinism varies from in-depth all the way to knowing absolutely nothing or, even worse, having unfounded negative views about the condition. Often when people don’t understand albinism they are polite and inquisitive, but sometimes they just stop and stare which I find really uncomfortable. I find I get asked the same kinds of questions a lot. I’ve made a list of some of the more common ones:

  • “You’re albino? Shouldn’t your eyes be red?” (Mine are blue, so that you know).
  • “Do you only come out at night?” or my personal favorite, “Are you a vampire?”
  • “How do you dye your hair so white?” and sometimes “Why did you dye your hair so white?”
  • “Is albinism contagious?” or, more bluntly, “Can I catch it?”

Some of these misconceptions are unsurprising, given the fact that people with albinism are often portrayed negatively in the media. Whenever you see characters with albinism on TV or in films, they are often portrayed as evil or as possessing strange, otherworldly powers. However, some of these myths about albinism have started to be challenged as people in the US have become more aware of the discrimination and violence suffered by individuals with albinism across the world, particularly in some African countries such as Tanzania. The United Nations and international governments have started to put political pressure on governments where people with albinism are persecuted, and this, in turn, has raised the public’s awareness about the condition.

My type of albinism has an adverse effect on my eyesight. When I was studying at college, my eyes quickly grew tired as I worked through all the books I had to read.  I also find it difficult to read the labels on the sides of food packets; this is really annoying as I also have an allergy to wheat (though this isn’t related to albinism) so I have to read everything really carefully. Like many people with albinism, the problems with my eyesight mean that I have chosen not to drive.  As you can imagine, this causes its own problems, and I have to rely on friends, Uber and family members when I want to make a journey.

I also have to be careful when I go out in the sun. Melanin, the pigment that my skin and eyes are missing, causes people who don’t have albinism to tan when they go out in the sun. I have to cover up and wear a lot of sunscreen to stop my skin from burning. In summer, I also try to avoid going out during the hottest parts of the day. Another problem is that my eyes are really sensitive to light. People who don’t have albinism have pigment in their eyes that moderate the amount of light that enters the eye and hits the retina. Without this pigment, even a small amount of sunlight can cause me to squint to see. This means I usually have to wear sunglasses all year around (I’ve experimented with tinted contact lenses, but I found that they felt weird in my eyes).

While it’s not always easy being a person with albinism, I NEVER consider myself to be disabled. There are aspects of my life that I need to manage more carefully than other people, but overall I’m able to lead a full and happy life filled with friends, work, and enjoyment.