I’ve been giving too much of myself lately.
Too much to my work. Too much on the weekends to volunteering.
After those two things, there is little left of me at the end of the day for much more than watching a movie or TV episode and mindless web surfing – without even the mental energy to absorb anything of real value.
And yesterday was probably the toughest work day in a very long time. It wasn’t the pinnacle, but it was very close. I’ve been trying to find an elegant way to describe the day, but I’ve come to realize that there just isn’t one.
I’m an administrator by title, though I’m often – probably to a fault – down in the trenches with the staff I supervise. I’ll crawl under a desk to fix a loose wire, be a friendly ear to patients and staff, schedule appointments, pick up garbage, and more. Yesterday was the first time, though, where I was actually helping a patient IN the restroom.
This patient was a man only in his early middle-age with lung cancer which has metastasized to his brain. When the mets took hold in his head, he lost most of the use of his left arm and leg. Only a few weeks into this journey, he is still coming to terms with the new limitations he has and to accept help doing some of the most simple tasks – such as simply standing to pull his pants down to use the toilet.
It took another staff member – the only other strong male – and myself to lift the patient from his infusion chair, to a wheelchair, move him and his infusion pump (realize that they can’t simply disconnect an IV of chemotherapy just for a bathroom trip), onto the toilet, back to his chair, then back to the infusion chair – about a 30 minute process and we did this 3 times in fewer hours.
It wasn’t horrible. There was nothing gross about it. We all urinate. We all defecate.
What was difficult was having to be a part of the patient’s realization, frustration, anger, and eventual acceptance – primarily due to exhaustion and feeling of helplessness – by having to help him with a task we all associate as being extremely personal.
After all, most people – even when married for years – still close the door when they use the toilet. It’s something ingrained in us from a very young age for some unknown reason (after all, it’s not that way in other countries) and it’s one of the things we most associate with lack of dignity when age or illness compromise it.
It was very difficult to see the range of emotions go through the patient as he processed this. It was sad to see the eventual acceptance – not by choice but by lack of choice. But it was also great to see the level of care and compassion given by my co-worker and how that also affected the patient.
Why? Well, dignity is something we feel is a thing we keep. That is not quite right. In reality, dignity is more like the effect of something – our feeling and reaction to our perception of something given to us by others. Think of it in analogy like gravity is the force and an object falling is the effect.
Okay, so that’s far from a perfect analogy, but I think you might still understand my meaning. At least, I hope you do.
I also hope that you’re spared of being in a similar situation anytime soon, though it is something we should all experience at some point because it’s humanizing.
I gave praise today of my co-worker. I gave him recognition in front of the other medical assistants on the team so that he and they would understand just how special it is to be strong enough to daily deal with situations like this and to come back the next day.
Over my four years there, I’ve seen a lot of people at their best and their worst. I’ve helped to clean up urine and run for an emesis basin. I’ve seen chemotherapy spilled on the floor, helped to wipe up blood, directed EMT’s, and even donated my own blood, sweat, and tears for the many lost.
I came back today. I’ll be back tomorrow. And the next.
Some days, I’ll feel I’m doing it alone. But every day I’ll remember that I’m also like the patient and need help, but that’s part of being human too.