One comes to reluctantly accept life’s personal limitations and physical ability. As family and friends decline and even some, sadly pass on, there is a sense of survivor guilt. My best friend of over fifty years recently died of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.
Whether we admit it or not, we sometimes try and strike a deal with God to perform this or that meaningful deed before our life comes to an end. It reminds me of the actor in The Seventh Seal pleading with death that he still had a contract to perform.
My recent treadmill stress test led to a definitive angiogram, which led to stents in an artery blocked by plaque. The blood thinner (Plavix) “exposed” longstanding but undiagnosed ulcers in my stomach with resultant serious bleeding. This led to another hospitalization with the difficult choice of stopping the Plavix, which keeps blood from clotting in the stents or continuing the Plavix and needing a transfusion with all the risks that entailed. A Gastroenterologist was called in to cauterize the ulcers and I was released with the hope that things were stabilized.
The three days were filled with anxiety, lonely, enforced, seemingly endless and restrictive and that is the point of this account. It is only too easy to take the activities of daily living (ADL) for granted. These ADLs, the ordinary things of life are taken for granted until they are taken away. For example, the chores of brushing one’s teeth or showering at home, when performed in a hospital, become a privilege and can push aside the dehumanization of hospitalization. For convenience and efficiency you are not even processed as a number. Your wrist contains a band with a bar code that is frequently scanned, making you an ‘inventory’ item.
IV lines installed in your wrist and arm to infuse medication limit your movement. All too often a slight arm movement will trigger a loud beep on a machine that needs to be reset by a person not immediately available.
Procedures and protocols dictate treatment as staff moves by endlessly this way and then that way. Doctors of course, are the final arbiters of meds and treatment decisions. They also say when you can leave. Using the bathroom is an advanced stage of treatment along with walking unaccompanied down the hall. Sitting in a chair, standing up, walking make you feel human again. So and so will see you soon but waiting is more like waiting for Godot.
I understand this process and realize that what I experienced was minimal and of short duration. I don’t resent this experience or the well intended staff and treatment I underwent. What is shameful and difficult to express is the anxiety and uncertainty, which dominated my thinking during this time. I should have appreciated and trusted in the many caring brothers and sisters holding me aloft and their prayers for God’s guidance of the treatment efforts. This experience ‘rehumanizes’. It makes me pose the questions once again. “What have I done with this day?” “At the end of this day, if I am granted a tomorrow will I be a good steward of that time?” “Will I appreciate more fully the simple ADLs of daily life daily?
Thank You Lord,
Your unprofitable servant Dale