I saw this video posted on the Vivid Life website which is another of the homes for my writing and Blog Talk Radio show called It’s All About Relationships. It was the perfect reminder of how, despite appearances, we may never know what is going on in the hearts and minds of those with whom we cross paths. Filmed at the Cleveland Clinic, it is a day in the life of various patients and family members who walk or are wheeled through their doors. The captions that run across the screen carry with them powerful and poignant meaning with descriptions such as “dreading the appointment”, “just signed a DNR”, “husband was given a terminal diagnosis”, “just found out he is a dad”, “tumor benign” “tumor malignant” and “coming off of a 12 hour shift”.
Think about your own day. When you woke up this morning, what was your initial thought? Did it have to do with pain, illness or injury for yourself or someone you know? Was it “Thank God, I’m ok or that my loved one woke up beside me.”? How about ” What will tomorrow bring?” The truth is, in a 24 hour period, any or all of those things could be so. Consider your interactions with the clerk in the supermarket who may be ringing up the wrong price for your items or the person driving in front of you who may be going more slowly than you prefer. An initial reaction could be impatience or even anger. What if the reasons for their actions have to do with anticipating or having received unpleasant news? Would that make you feel any more compassion for them?
I am flashing back 14 1/2 years ago when my husband was a patient in the ICU of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia for the last 5 1/2 weeks of his life while awaiting a liver transplant that never occurred. Those 40 days and 40 nights (what I called my ‘Biblical travail’) that I lived there with him, I had several of those thoughts as I strolled the hallways. I got to know many of the families whose loved ones were in the care of those I thought of as ‘angels in scrubs’. We became family of choice and chance as a result and for a few years after Michael passed, I remained in contact with some of them. I blessed the staff and wondered how they managed to maintain their pleasant personae while they themselves might have experienced vicarious traumatization in the course of doing their jobs and who knows what their personal lives were like? As a medical social worker, I know that health care workers can fall to prey to it. As I took an occasional foray out into the world, I would watch folks doing ‘normal people things’ such as eating in restaurants, going to work, playing with their children, taking their dogs for a walk, bicycling, roller blading, going to the movies and wondered if they had any clue what was going on behind the walls of the hospital. Had they once been where I was and eased their way back into their daily lives, leaving the struggle behind them or were they still carrying their burdens? I smiled at them too, knowing that someday I would join their ranks and create a ‘new sense of normal.’ I have, but hold onto the sense of empathy for those in throes.
I encourage you to watch this short video and put yourselves in the place of each of these people knowing that “it came to pass, not to stay.”
http://youtu.be/Wl2_knlv_xw “IF WE COULD SEE INSIDE OTHERS’ HEARTS”: LIFE, in 4 min”