We spent seven hours yesterday in the ER!
After a lovely time enjoying breakfast with good friends, solving all the world’s problems, and seeing beautiful pictures of Greece and points beyond (from their recent cruise) . . . my wife’s poison ivy (we think) got bad enough to warrant a visit to the Emergency Room.
“Waiting” is often the name of the game in the ER, especially in large hospitals. And this was no exception. With each encounter we were treated with kindness by hospital staff that (for the most part) seemed to really enjoy their work. What was MOST interesting was the microcosm of hurting persons playing the waiting game along with us.
Some patients were silent, and stayed to themselves, but some . . . .
An African-American female in her late 20s waited patiently (or so it seemed) in a wheelchair, her left foot in a cast of some sort. She spoke mostly with her eyes, glancing her and there. She was there before us, and when she was finally called back to triage she shouted loudly to the whole room, “Thank you, Jesus!” She apologized for her outburst as they wheeled her by, but I gave her a thumbs up.
A Puerto Rican woman was wheeled up beside us, and further conversation informed us that she recognized us from church; she was in off-and-on severe abdominal pain from what they thought was probably her appendix. Shortly, her daughter appeared, then her husband. But a pleasant interaction with her continued into the evening even though at times her English was obfuscated by her thick accent. Prayers were exchanged between us.
A young man was wheeled in by a male friend, or sibling perhaps; he was in such agony and proceeded to use a nearby counter for a footstool. He tried to sleep most of the time, but on occasion he would gasp, moan, them slump back into his chair, or alternately rest his head on the counter. A nurse gave him a test in the waiting room; I think she was checking his blood sugar. I heard her say, “271.” Ugh.
Across from us an older gentlemen was there with his wife. Several times she would move from wheelchair to a nearby seat, and when she did (with his help, of course) her face would contort, and she would struggle to her feet in agony. When seated she would slump to one side and grimace in pain. I felt so sorry for her (and for him). But my sorrow lightened a bit when she finally got up and walking by us informed the room that she was “an 84 year old woman in excruciating pain” and no one was helping her. She yelled at and insulted the intake persons (and the hospital), but they held their ground with her. She sure had a lot of spunk hidden beneath her pain, and was at no loss for words as she and her husband stormed out angrily. The staff person said, “What’s your name?” as they took her off the waiting list. And I thought I could sense their professional heartfelt relief and willingness to accommodate the angry woman by deleting her from the queue. BTW, a nurse, not yet informed about the woman’s dramatic exit, called her name for triage examination just moments after the angry departure. But alas . . . .
Another woman (there with a man, or husband) was “heaving” into the trash can near us. It’s so hard to watch people at their lowest. I understand the drowning man syndrome in these settings, i.e. the drowning man is notorious for being so dangerous to save, because he is flailing about, desperate and willing to do ANYTHING if it might save him from a watery grave. If you wade in to help him, “Beware!” He will take you down with him if necessary. What he would NOT do to you in his sane moments he will do without hesitation at his desperate moments.
As I walked around the enormous waiting room area, marking time, I was sometimes met with a smile and sometimes with a blank expression. “These are people just like us,” I reminded myself. They don’t want to be here, but they NEED to be; they are hurting in some way to which they cannot bring relief. They are turning to this place, and these men and women dressed in scrubs . . . for answers. And for compassion.
We live in a world of hurt, don’t we? Two days ago my youngest daughter was recounting all the pain and hurt, sickness and death, and general depression among our friends and family in the past few years. It is inordinate. Does it seem that way for you, too?
In simplistic terms our lives are about trying to stay alive and helping others to stay alive. Now I know it goes much deeper than that. But the truth is we are, each one of us, intent on staying alive, searching for meaning, seeking for happiness, and finding something useful to do with our selves. When that light, that motivation, that powerful urge for self-preservation is gone . . . we long for the EXIT sign of life to appear.
At that moment we are no longer the drowning man flailing in the waters, beating the surface with our arms, lunging upward for a breath; rather, we acquiesce, or we dive deeper seeking our own demise.
There is much to enjoy in this life: the beauty of nature, the gratification and security in loving relationships, the meaningfulness of good work, the pleasure of food, rest, and a myriad of other benefits. That’s the “sunny” side of life. But . . .
There is also Pain. Rejection. Failure. Hatred and Fear. We all tend to embrace the former benefits and run like a cheetah from the others. Nevertheless, they find us; none of us is fast enough to elude them all. One day we find ourselves or our loved ones in the Emergency Room of life, seeking relief from some malady we cannot resolve on our own.
What we get to choose in those moments is how we will treat our fellow life-travelers and/or the professional staff that offer to help. But it begins when we acknowledge: