Friday rolls around and the relief of two days free of caring for others is like a weight lifted, believe me. Today I was pushed to the edges of my patience with several patients, and I practiced compassionate listening even as I felt my impatient self wanting to scream in frustation, "Why the fuck can't you understand these simple instructions? Don't you get it???" Thank Goddess for self-control and restraint.
When one sees learned helplessness in action, it is difficult to just sit there smiling and say, "Y'know, I understand how you feel. Now let's talk about it". Instead, one wants to talk like you might talk to a recalcitrant child, threaten to take away priviledges, no sweets after dinner, no TV before bed. Instead, we plead, we cajole, we try good cop/bad cop techniques, we throw up our hands and decide to try again next week.
The diabetic patient who knows she should eat a small snack every few hours but only eats an enormous meal once a day and then has super-low blood sugars 12 hours later should know better--she just can't change her patterns of behavior. The woman with advanced AIDS who continuously buys Xanax on the street should know better, but her life of unbelievable trauma precludes such clearheadedness. The other patient with advanced respiratory disease should be able to stop smoking, since she constantly complains of not being able to breathe. But she can't. Her AIDS is fully controlled but the smoking will be her death. Can I change it? Probably not. Am I frustrated with her? Hell, yes.
I have a love/hate relationship with this work. I love the people, their humanity, their damaged selves. I love the ones who are self-sufficient and disciplined. I love the ones who are helpless victims of trauma. I've loved many who have died---the city is speckled with their memory as I make my rounds along the streets. I love many who will die, often due to their own inability to act conscientiously, and memories of them will also roam the streets and the corridors of my mind. I ask myself honestly if I am addicted to being a helper. Do I gain alot from being in this role? I'm sure I do, and only I can decide when the role no longer serves me (or them, for that matter).