“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” ~ Dr Seuss
“Please understand,” he said, “that there is a difference between how you think from over there and us over here.”
Ponder on that for a bit. It must give us pause. The divide in communication is predicated on experiential prejudices. Isn’t it? You say what you believe in and someone listening to you will impute based on their references. Funny, don’t you think? We are the products of our thinking. That is exactly what that patient said. Pretty profound, isn’t it? So if I said, “the weather is great outside” and my reference was a sunny day in winter with the outside temperature at 2 degrees Celsius. Someone from the tropics would think I had lost my marbles, even, bundled up in layers and layers of wool. So the two-way communication is really never quite two-way or for that matter, in sync, now is it? We may pulsate with the thought that, that is not in compliance with anyone’s but our own reality, but at its emotional core its very essence is what is inbred through our experience and is only gradually mutable over time, but never in this instance. Communication is by virtue of these intermediary steps a form of expression of the interpretation, retention and self-modified understanding.
The attending physician attired in his latest freshly pressed lab coat, sporting a dark red and blue tie looked down at the chart and then at the patient. There was less a sense of authority and more a sense of helplessness. His fingers flipping pages on the chart with abandon, trying to uncover something that did not exist. The patient lay quietly supine in the hospital bed with a thin sheet of white blanket over him, his anxious eyes wide with expectation. The physician’s eyes darted back and forth between the chart and the patient, trying to find the right words to express his thoughts. After a long pause, that seemed eternal in its silence, he said, “Well, unfortunately there is nothing that can be done. The diagnosis gives you a limited time. Besides you’ve lived a good life. Get your issues in order for your family. I am sorry.” The limbic disconnect.
The man stared in disbelief as his wife broke down into sobbing fits. The physician cleared his throat and mumbled some words that made little sense, except to fill the air with something akin to hushed noise. The emotional display was difficult for this doctor to alleviate. The facts were the facts. He stood up and then quietly walked out of the room, leaving behind the heaving sobs of despair.
The room remained solemn. The nurses did what they could to assuage the couple’s fears. The emotions were spilling out of the room onto the nursing floor. Distraught facemasks had glommed onto the caregivers. The drama of death was being played out in the room as it often did and they, the nurses, were all helpless witnesses. Even though this was a recurring theme the frame of reference was never firm, the thoughts of mortality seemed to ooze out into a self-directed protective shell for their minds to avoid the harsh reality. Their brains had created a sanctuary of sorts over time for self-protection and preservation, lest reality create a schism in their own lives. This terrible walled off vault was devoid of light and that is where all the trauma of life was disposed. It was a dark place to push all the bad things into and lock the door shut.
The evening shadows snaked their way in and out of the room through the windows. The couple embraced in their new found misery, tried to make sense of life. The golden hue of sunset that had meant a different circumstance of happiness before, now represented a fracture of thought and action. The husband and wife clung to each other. There were decades of moments that coursed through their embrace and in through their touch. There were unsaid words, filled with emotions.
Each of their minds flashed a picture of the past resplendent in full glory of what their embedded past had been, from the solemnity of their marriage, to the day they were told they could not have children, to the surprise birth of their child, to the birthdays, the anniversaries, the weddings and confirmations and the promotions, every momentous emotive moment played out backwards in time. All the joys and the sadness, the happiness and the tears, the stern words and the quiet kisses, all came spilling back into the reel to reel images displayed in the minds red-eye.
As the weight of the burden fell on their frail shoulders, the unclaimed agendas, emptied themselves of their content. There was a purging of hopes, a tenuous holding onto the dreams, a defiance to logic, a threat to reality, a sustained anger, a justification, a cry for help, and a call to question, all emotions of great and small events, triggered by forces unseen, came tumbling down. Everything and anything and nothing, all wrapped together. Time seemed to stand still as the tears of what was, streaked down the washed skin of what is, fearful of what would be..
As the night darkness harkened, a young man in his late twenties, a second-year resident walked into the room. He introduced himself and sat down in the chair besides them. The wife with her protective instincts got up and hovered next to her husband.
“Mr. J, I am the resident, who will be taking care of you tonight.” He introduced himself with a smile. It was the fresh, youthful smile that beckons carnations and roses rather then gathers entreaties of salvation from the scourge of decay. Both husband and wife remained silent.
“You know, its quite amazing that in my last year of medical school, I saw a patient with the same diagnosis and the other day, I saw him again coming in for a check up.” He began, “His is obviously a similar disease but seems to be doing fairly well. So I thought, I’d share that with you.”
“But the other doctor said that I should put my things in order and that there was no hope for me?” The patient mumbled the words as his thick dry tongue stuck to them like glue, unrelenting of the expression.
“Are you a doctor?” He asked. “You are younger than my grandson.”
“Don’t mind him. He is not himself.” His wife piped in, “Of course he is a doctor, it says so on his lab coat, honey.” The wife prodded the husband, not meaning to hurt the young doctor’s feelings.
“Yes, I am and I realize that you were diagnosed recently and even though it is a difficult diagnosis, it is not necessarily an instant sentence. Besides there is no one who can say how long you have. All they can do is base it on statistics. And there are a lot of chutes and ladders in that rabbit hole”
“So what is your opinion, doctor?” The wife asked.
“I am just saying that there are many months in a year and many days in a month, as well as hours in a day. Don’t look at it as a dead end. Enjoy the time, do what you have always wanted to do. Nothing is going to happen tomorrow or the day after or the day after that and so on. It will happen some day but we really don’t know when that is, now do we for anyone of us?”
Both husband and wife were silent. The key to the door to their library of thought was turning. The door would be opening soon…
“We can take a trip to Rome. We’ve always wanted to do that.” The wife said.
“And don’t forget that Alaskan Cruise.” The patient added more color to his wife’s imagination.
“Doc, will I be able to travel?” He asked.
“Are you able to sit, stand and walk for short distances?”
“Why yes. There was nothing wrong with me before I came into the hospital, except this annoying cough.”
“Well then,” the resident answered, “you should be able to,” he added, “now you know that the diagnosis and any potential treatment may put limitations on your life, but does not on how you live it. We must all live that way, shouldn’t we?” He paused for emphasis, “Because none of us know the exact day or the hour, the minute or the second.”
The conversation went for a long while until the overhead pages called the resident out. The room he left behind had a low buzz of anticipation, of expectancy, of a future. He had changed their world. This young man seemed to have a grey beard of experience growing within him somewhere but definitely not on his twenty-something clean-shaven face. He had an old soul. Yes he knew much, much more than one can learn from a lifetime of learning. He had wisdom.
Life had to be lived, once again.
Speak softly ~ choose your words wisely.
Speak gently ~ there is a heart and a brain on the other side.
Speak from the comforts of being human ~ You could be on the other side..
Speak slowly ~ Communicate the right meaning.
Immortality is a myth! ~ All life succumbs to time! ~ Uh huh.
So, Live it!