Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Kind of Life

He stares out the window, fumbling with his belt and drumming his fingers on the arms of his portable wheelchair. Wheeling himself to the table, he leafs through a magazine, the pages worn from days of similar activity, the corners greasy from his fingers. Unwilling to draw, refusing to be read to, staring past the TV towards the empty wall, eschewing the Play-Doh that we thought might be a fun and therapeutic diversion, engaging with him is significantly challenging. Throughout our 12-hour shift, he generally refuses food, readily accepts water or juice, and otherwise chooses to keep to himself with occasional brief conversational interludes.

And so the days pass.

Recently, he was saved from a deplorable situation where he was taken advantage of by acquaintances looking for money or alcohol, rarely washed or bathed, and lived a life that most people would find appalling in its squalor. Now, living with family in the countryside, he is safe from ill-meaning neighbors and so-called "friends", yet he pines for that other life with all of his might. Stripped of his freedom, his drivers license and his car, he is at the mercy of nurses and social workers who mind his every move with a keen and earnest intent to help him stay clean, dry, well fed, hydrated and happy.

It is without a doubt that this individual was truly a danger to himself and at risk of injury or death without the proper intervention. Still, assessing his current situation, it's also quite clear that his quality of life leaves a great deal to be desired. We do our best to provide for him, keep him comfortable, and afford him some level of contentment. Still, it's so difficult to witness a person who seems to glean so little enjoyment from life, made even more keen by the sudden loss of his independence. Yes, it's a life, but how can we make it better? How can we bring him joy? And how can we make up for the changes that have stripped him of his ability to make decisions for himself? These are not easy questions to answer, and as we grapple with the possible answers, he stares out the window wishing that things had never changed.


Meredith said...

Your writing is beautiful, Keith, and your story has stirred me. I feel your yearning to relieve suffering, and yet, and yet... This is another's journey, yes? And as you accompany this person for a little way, you will let your compassionate heart guide you.

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...


Thank you for the kind comment, and you are correct---it is indeed another's journey, and my compassionate heart sometimes leads me astray. Avoiding enmeshment and overinvolvement with patients is certainly an ongoing notion in need of caring vigilance.

Robert said...

We always cling to the familiar. Sometimes the familiar isn't the best situation, but it doesn't mean we don't long for it.

Excellent writing.

Meredith said...

I've been thinking about this more since I left my comment. Yes, you are writing about another person's journey. But there is also something else. There is a place in this narrative where he is not someone else. He is inextricably intertwined with you.

I sense you deeply feeling another person's suffering, and you recognize it with your pure and empathic heart; you understand it on a visceral level. And now I sense this experience in you, and I feel a connection with my experience of sorrow and angst, and an opening of my heart, too. There is a mirroring going on here, a mirroring of suffering and compassion. And just look at the creative energy you have brought forth from this deep connection. You and he, and now you and me and others reading this - we are not so separate, are we?

There is big love at play in these fields.

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The importance of health care is proving to be better everyday quality of service and also the quality of doctors and millions of people in urgent need of appropriate medicines for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, venereal diseases, fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc.

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...


You are very kind, and very perceptive. You're right---we're not so separate, and our lack of separation is the breeding ground for compassion.