Medicine was Ghigoﾒs field of dreams
As the daughter of a physician and a nurse, the medical field was a natural route to take for Green Bank resident Janet Ghigo, no matter how difficult it would be for her to succeed.
Ghigo was just another all-American girl with one difference: she had epilepsy. Diagnosed at age 12, Ghigo said the disorder never caused her any trouble, until she applied to medical school.
ﾓSomehow in 1966, females with epilepsy where not right at the top of the list of applicants to medical school,ﾔ she said. ﾓI think I was in that big group, not the ones they skim off the top, but the ones they throw off the bottom. The ones they look for a reason to not take.ﾔ
Ghigo wasnﾒt discouraged. Instead, she found a way to be in the medical field without being a doctor. After graduating with a bachelorﾒs degree from Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spending another year in the biology lab doing research, Ghigo went home to work at her dadﾒs office, where she heard about a new program at her alma mater.
ﾓI was going to a neurologist down there and I heard about the physician assistant program at Bryn Mawr,ﾔ she said. ﾓThey were just going to start the program down there and the neurology department was part of it, so I became a physicianﾒs assistant with a speciality in neurology.ﾔ
With her new degree and title in tow, Ghigo moved to Texas with her husband, Frank.
ﾓThey hadnﾒt invented PAs in Texas yet, so I was going around to all these neurology offices, asking if they needed to hire somebody,ﾔ she explained. ﾓThey asked if I knew EEG [Electroencephalography] and I had spent one month in the EEG lab in PA school so I started doing that and discovered I absolutely loved that.ﾔ
An EEG consists of gluing electrodes to the scalp of the patient and measuring the electricity of the brain, similar to the way an EKG measures the electricity of the heart. As an EEG tech, Ghigo tested people with symptoms of epilepsy.
ﾓThe main thing itﾒs used for is the diagnosis of epilepsy and that made it particularly interesting to me,ﾔ she said. ﾓIt was a great field. When Frank got another job, I had a job before I got the bags unpacked. So wherever we went, he kept going to cities, so there were always hospitals that needed EEG techs.ﾔ
Having epilepsy herself, Ghigo found her work engaging and learned more each day about EEGs and her disorder.
ﾓI worked in the operating room where they did surgery on people for epilepsy, which was fascinating,ﾔ she recalled. ﾓWe were recording directly from the brain and seeing this little chunk of brain is putting out electrical signals, that little chunk of brain is not, so if you cut out that chunk of brain, then maybe the person will be all right. That was real interesting.ﾔ
Because the EEG test requires direct contact with patients, Ghigo understood what they were going through, because she went through it herself. She didnﾒt share her experience with every patient, but there were a few with whom she felt a connection.
ﾓI was working with a girl who was 12 or 13. She was a delightful child; the kind of daughter every mother would like to have,ﾔ she said. ﾓThere was something wrong with the mom. I couldnﾒt quite tell what was wrong, but she didnﾒt have much to say. So, I put the wires on her head [the girl] and tested her.
ﾓAs the technician, you donﾒt make the diagnosis, the doctor will tell you what it shows,ﾔ she continued. ﾓBut this mother, she was just devastated and asked me what it [the EEG] showed. I said, ﾑwell, one thing I can tell you, her EEG looks almost exactly like mine did when I was her age.ﾒﾔ
Ghigo continued to tell the mother that she had graduated high school and college and was married and living a completely normal life. She just happened to have epilepsy.
ﾓThe thing that was just stunning to me. I could see this black cloud lift from this woman because she had no idea what to expect for her daughter and hearing my story helped her,ﾔ she said. ﾓIt made the field very meaningful for me.ﾔ
Ghigo also worked with a self-help group for people trying to cope with their diagnosis with epilepsy. She said dealing with the news you have a disorder is similar to dealing with losing a loved one.
ﾓIf youﾒre grieving for a grandmother that died, youﾒre going through the stages of grief. What if you lost your health? It is kind of the same thing,ﾔ she explained. ﾓYou were this person and you have to take these pills, every day, for the rest of your life. I thought it was real impressive to have that outlook because I never thought of it as a loss of who you were. Itﾒs a loss of your previous self. That was what we tried to do with the series.ﾔ
As part of the self-help group, Ghigo had guest speakers from several areas of the medical field to explain how a person can live a normal life with epilepsy and showed a video from an epilepsy hospital in Germany which made a lasting impression.
ﾓMost of the people had no idea what they looked like when they were having their seizures so they were kind of shocked,ﾔ she explained. ﾓThis guy came up to me later and said thank you for showing that and said, ﾑnow I understand why, after Iﾒve had a seizure, my wifeﾒs nightgown smells of fear instead of sweat.ﾒ Itﾒs the little things like that, as you go along, that makes it fulfilling. I enjoyed doing all that stuff with the patient contact.ﾔ
When the Ghigos made their final move, to Pocahontas County, Janet found herself at a crossroads. The closest hospital with an EEG department was Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins and that was too far to drive and the department wasnﾒt busy enough for another EEG tech.
Staying in the EEG field, Ghigo became the managing editor of the American Journal of EEG Technology.
ﾓI was still in touch with the field and everybody that I had known forever, but what I didnﾒt have was the patient contact,ﾔ she said. ﾓThat was where joining the squad came into play. I had spent my entire life in medicine and here Iﾒm sitting and they need people, so I became an EMT and later a paramedic.ﾔ
Three years after moving to the county, Ghigo joined the Bartow-Frank-Durbin rescue squad in 1991. Now, 20 years later, she is the rescue chief.
Although she no longer works as an EEG tech, Ghigo continues her favorite part of the medical field ﾖ working with people. On top of helping save lives with the rescue squad, Ghigo teaches those who want to join her.
ﾓI teach the EMT class every fall and I do CPR first aid classes every couple of months,ﾔ she said. ﾓWith the EMT class, when they are finished, they know everything they need to know to be an EMT basic, which is the basic level that you have to be to be in the back of the truck. It includes patient assessment and how you treat the things you can treat. For example, they canﾒt do stitches, but they can stop the bleeding.ﾔ
Although the daughter of a physician and a nurse never fulfilled her dream of becoming a doctor herself, she did fulfill her dream of helping people.