Living for Tomorrow
September 28, 2010 3 Comments
Today was difficult. A busy Monday in the emergency department. The volume was the highest we have seen in a while. I did not stop moving for 12 hours. Movement makes the time go faster, but not fast enough. Today I am living for tomorrow. Until now, I have always tried to live in the moment. There is a beautiful piece by Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman who was asked what she would do if she had to live her life over again.
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I’m one of those people who lives sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had it to do again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.
But my moments are stolen, consumed by this job – eat, work, sleep, and wake up the next day to begin again. There is no time for bare feet, as I trudge along this path of residency. The work is draining. But this is different from anything else I have experienced. I have put in hard work – long hours, challenging intellectual puzzles, sheer physical work – before. Although hard work is difficult and tiring at times, it is always possible. Residency is a different beast. And my perspective now is unique, is time-sensitive – I am in the eye of the storm, looking out around me at the rest of the world, quite far removed.
It is as if I have departed, at least for now, to the underbelly of the world. My lens is medicine – and all of my thoughts are filtered through that lens. When I see a child on the street, I do not simply see the child. I see him through my lens, and I think to myself not, Here is a boy riding a bicycle on the driveway with his brother – laughing and racing in the sun. Instead, I think, Here is a young boy who is not in the hospital. A young boy who is not dying. A young boy who is not struggling to breathe. And he is not pale and withered. How strange. He must not be sick.
As I drive on the highway, I do not simply think about driving, changing lanes, watching the cars, pressing the gas and the brakes. Instead, I am watching at all times – like a hawk – for an accident. One is bound to happen, I think. I saw three horrible accidents just yesterday, one patient with his arm completely off, one patient dead on arrival, another with a horrible facial laceration layers deep. One is bound to happen again. Which lane? Likely the third where cars are going the fastest. Which driver is looking most reckless?
When I went to the grocery store this morning to get breakfast, I did not simply stand in line and wait for my order. I watched an older man in the adjacent aisle almost slip on the floor – I watched his right foot slide, and was almost ready to leap towards him to prevent him from falling. But, miracle of all miracles, he caught himself. A million thoughts raced through my head in that split second. He is going to fall, hit his head, and need to go to the emergency department. And I will probably need to stay here until that happens. I watch the man at the counter who is making my sandwich – obese, red, diaphoretic. What if he is having chest pain but is not telling anyone? He looks like someone who might have a heart attack. I need to leave before something bad happens.
It is such a peculiar place – this underbelly. A world of disease and grief. I glimpse the faint shadows of healthy people far in the distance, obscured and barely visible. I see just enough to wish I could be there and not here. But they are strangers to me – unreachable. And so I dive, yet again, back to the depths of the world. The sun rises and sets, but I only know this because I trust it is happening without me. Time passes because it must, but I am barely aware. Down in the underbelly, I look up through dark waters. I try not to hear cries and screams which reverberate in the water. I try not to see blood which darkens a beautiful blue. Through all this murkiness, I am certain that there is light and air above me – but it is far out of reach.