I often wonder why.
Why some folk are blessed with a plain sailing life, and others appear to be born into never ending struggle.
My daily exposure to those who battle poor health, has brutally reinforced my morbid belief that human suffering has absolutely no benefit, as some may believe, and it does NOT make one stronger-another common theory.
In my experience, it shatters what once was, a whole human being, into many small asymmetrical pieces, and if lucky enough to be slowly repaired, the mended being is never completely the same as the original whole one.
Cynical? Perhaps-or real, maybe.
I would like to tell you a story about a man. A man, who is indelibly entrenched in my mind. The meeting he and I had was several months ago now, and I have thought about sharing it many, many times, but the words when written down, felt so weightless that I let go of them, in favour of preserving ‘the moment’ in the form of a memory-of course that was then, and this is now.
‘Just another patient, I initially thought, or perhaps I didn’t actually think, perhaps I was on automatic pilot as many nurses are, just to survive the day. I observed him, waiting for his turn to be scanned, patiently, with all the others in the crowded X-Ray room. Just another patient, he was.
Half an hour and several jobs later, he was still sitting in his wheelchair, quietly, not annoying anyone, not asking for assistance, hands cradled inside each other.
I walked over to him, smiled, and queried his delay.
He was middle aged, greyish, tall from what I could tell, kind eyes. A red bandanna decorated his neck, an artistic touch, I thought, to match his blue denim shirt.
“Hello, I’m one of the nurses here. I have just noticed that you have been waiting for quite some time. Have you had your scan yet?”
He smiled and nodded his head.
“Yes. I’ve had it”
His voice was muffled. He held his hand to his throat when attempting to mouth the words he was clearly having trouble with. I listened carefully and leaned toward him a touch.
“Ok. Is anyone coming to get you?”
He hesitated and dropped his head. He didn’t speak, and I allowed him the silence, for a moment, until he was ready to continue.
“The doctors have told me to wait here. They won’t let me go home.”
“Oh. Ok. Is there a problem?”
He lifted the bandana slightly. A large tumour engulfed his neck…I nodded my head to indicate I understood. He smiled at me, as if to say, ‘Please don’t worry, I’m fine’
“There are a new set of doctors. They don’t know me. They are concerned I am too unsteady on my feet to be safe. I have been unsteady for years, it’s no worse, and it has nothing to do with this ‘thing’.” He pointed in the direction of his neck.
“They want to admit me to hospital. Then they will do five thousand tests…”
He cleared his throat, swallowed heavily, and continued.
“I’ll have needles, and infusions, and blood test after blood test and scan after scan, and medicine I don’t need will be prescribed. Then they’ll involve every other health professional in the hospital who’ll all be on leave, and I’ll wait and wait and lie in a bed, when I could be sitting at home on my balcony, with my fish and my dog. I am palliative. I have limited time…but they will not let me go home”
He smiled again. Clearly not angry or bitter…and I felt for the first time in my career, that as a profession, we were in fact, prolonging a man’s suffering. We were violating his right to make choices concerning his life and how he spent the remaining days of it.
Is hospital a prison?
Perhaps sometimes we are so caught up in trying to fix everyone, that we forget, death is very much a part of life, and we should all be given the chance to say no to medical treatment.
I placed my hand on his shoulder…
“I’m so sorry”
“Oh don’t be. I’m happy. I’ve had a good, full life…”
-and then he looked at me for one extremely intense moment and lifted both arms to the heavens..he closed his eyes and said:
“I want to be free”
I have never felt so helpless as a human being. So trapped in the bureaucratic bull dust of policy and protocol, of red tape, of rules and regulations and illogical reasoning.
What about the person?
What about the broken human being in front of me, who effectively was being kept against his will, who was soon to be a victim of the system?
The man in the wheelchair disappeared that day, and I never saw him again. Rumour has it, he walked on out of there, with the assistance of a random few.
I do hope he never lost his smile.
I do hope he lay on his balcony until the end of his days with his fish and his dog, and I absolutely thank him, for reminding me to remember, that a ‘person’ lives behind the mask of the label ‘hospital patient’.
Disclaimer-I would like to make clear the intention of this post is not to defame the medical profession, who I might add work harder than most, and put their heart and soul into their career, but simply to highlight the fact that there IS such a thing as dying happily, by choice. We must remember when treating patients, to respect these basic human rights in order to eliminate any further suffering we may be impinging upon them against their will.
Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt