September 18, 2015

black badge of courage

The following is not FACTUALLY accurate. Details have been changed, things deleted, stuff made up, all to protect identity. But it is 100% absolutely true.

     I'm striding down the maze of hallways at midnight to the ER to do yet another admission. I'm tired and my back is feeling it from the constant sense of urgency that comes from an already busy night. I'm bent over ever so slightly as a consequence so my gaze is directed downward. I guess that's why our eyes met. He was in a wheelchair and the hospital gown gave his status as a patient away. He was lost and asking me for directions to the cafeteria. As I have trouble navigating out of a wet paper sack due to my lack of sense of direction, I told him to follow me as it was on my way to the ER.
     All I ask him is how is he doing this evening. That is it. Nothing more. Just being polite really. And slowly but steadily he begins to tell me troubles. Mid twenties. Made a living by the sweat of his brow and working with his hands. And now he is suddenly paralyzed because of multiple lesions in his brain. The neurologists think maybe infection, maybe cancer, maybe who knows. And he's telling me this without much detectable emotion but he's telling it in a way that is highly detailed. And it strikes me that he hasn't had the time nor the opportunity to talk about this, much less digest it. He's using me to help sort out all the thoughts and emotions whirling in his mind and heart. I do all that I know how to do which is to be fully present and just listen.
     After he found the cafeteria, he thanked me, shook my hand and abely rolled himself to get something to eat. In my mind, I'm wondering, "what the hell just happened?" Later, I ask my wife if I have something tattooed on me visible only to those in severe existential pain that says, "bear unto me the troubles of thine soul." She only half jokingly calls me an Angel of Death, but a merciful one. And, yes, she says that people can indeed feel something about me that invites them to open up. They can sense my pain like a dog can smell fear. I'm at a loss how they know but she's the intuitive one. And after knowing each other for over two decades, I've learned to trust that intuition of hers.

1 comment:

Jess said...

And, yes, she says that people can indeed feel something about me that invites them to open up.
As someone who stumbled across your blog and felt inclined to open up... yes, you do have something about you that invites people to open up.

You see people as human, regardless of their physical or mental difficulties. This comes across in your posts, and I'm sure it comes across in your in-person interaction. This is, unfortunately, not as common as it should be, even in healthcare. Even those who started out that way tend to get caught up in routine and heavy workload. I say that as a nurse who sees this to a greater or lesser extent in myself and my co-workers.

You asked how this man was doing. Even though it presumably wasn't convenient, you made an effort to listen rather than giving indication of impatience. You didn't have to do any of that. It's entirely possible no one else has asked that in a context where it wasn't professionally obligated, and that people in general aren't paying much attention to the guy in the wheelchair. Wheelchairs tend to invite avoidance.

You are a special person. I'm sorry that it is a burden.