This was written out longhand. In cursive script no less! It’s amazing how much that changes the writing process inside one’s head. The reason I’m handwriting is because I intentionally don’t use a smartphone but I wanted to write about the experiences I’ve been having while sitting in the emergency department of a hospital.
I’ve been on a huge time-crunch over several months due to unexpected circumstances and the stakes are very high: the care of my parents. My best friend had come into town to help me get the fantastic amount of work done that’s required for me to prepare for my parents. After close to two weeks of 5am to 1am workdays she was on her way out for a dog walk and she ended up slipping on the stairs, tumbling head over heels and she broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder! One second you’re on a dog walk and the next you’re in emergency.
Everyone in this waiting room had concerns this morning. Everyone had fears and stresses and worries and yet now those are flickers at best. Every bit of energy is focused on their arm, their stomach, their heart. Family members from all walks of life converge in the waiting room where all differences vanish. In this room no one cares where you’re from or what language you speak or what religion you are; in here we’re all just people with loved ones in pain and danger. It really brings people together.
Some of us respond to the care with gratitude and some with fear. The fearful ones sound angry and are often met with harsh tones back from staff which is understandable. No one likes to be spoken to in unpleasant ways and yet at the same time I doubt we should expect the best behaviour from people rushing into this building. Certainly everyone I’ve spoken with feels like these are some of their worst days and they’re likely to be on their worst behaviour. Fear is best met with compassion. That benefits both parties.
What’s interesting is the state of everyone here. They were themselves earlier but now they are the relative of the person in trouble. Their own identity has been abandoned and random thoughts about their life has been replaced with random thoughts about what’s happening right now. Everyone is looking at their lives from a new perspective. Everything suddenly potentially means something different.
I’m lost too. This leaves a lot up in the air for me and even more for my incredible best friend. But rather than let my mind reel I kept my mind still and I observed. I watched the elderly Indian man go from very polite and patient to very argumentative all in steps that matched the news he got about his wife, who he clearly loves a great deal. You could see the shift as he added each new narrative element every time a doctor or nurse came by with the news he didn’t want. And yet the staff that encountered him later in the process would walk away with the impression that he was unpleasant person when that wasn’t accurate at all.
Whether it’s us getting hurt or someone we love, almost no one sees these experiences coming. Which means if you’re not having one now you’re actually experiencing that really tough luck to notice–the absence of trouble. As Richard Carlson used to say, people are mad the one day every five years that their alarm doesn’t go off, but they fail to be grateful the other 1824 days when it did ring.
Situations like this remind us of what’s really important. I’m lucky, almost everyone in here is in for something far more serious than my friend is. I felt genuine gratitude for that. And my connections with others here might have been under difficult circumstances, but they have been heartfelt and I would include them as positive interactions. Empathy feels a lot like love. I look for opportunities for it selfishly.
The people in this waiting room made this part of my stay much less stressful and one could even say they collectively helped. I think we all got helped in that room. I wish them all well with their situations and I head off to find a way to post this blog. In the meantime, ask yourself what would happen to your life if you suddenly had to go in surgery and then be grateful you don’t have to have those experiences. And when you do have painful experiences just remember, they’re not bad either, they’re preparing us for our futures as the frailer people we’re all destined to become.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.