Superfluous Compassion.


Health care is often the true test of patience. You enter the field for what you imagine to be a fulfilling task of care and compassion, but quickly learn that your service and treatments are not always wanted or appreciated.

It is frustrating when patients incessantly hammer their call light, asking for a steady flow of Lorna Doones or endless trips to the bathroom due to that darned enlarged prostate. Even the most tolerant of individuals grow weary of an encephalopathic patient that refuses to stay in bed, leaving you sprinting to their room every ten minutes at the call of the bed alarm. When you’re angrily swatted away for trying to give a bed bath to an odiferous, hairy, morbidly obese man, the thought can cross your mind, “Why am I trying so hard to care for them, when they clearly don’t care themselves?” Twelve hour days of changing soiled linens, catering like a waitress juggling diet cokes and pudding, and swinging along at the bottom of the medical totem pole is arduous. And then I hear the word, “superfluous”.

I was helping a particularly demanding patient of mine in the shower, after hours of persistent re-filling of her ice packs and tugging her draw sheet just one inch this way, no, wait, one inch back. Her pain meds had her rambling on about one thing or another, and I heard the word, “superfluous” rattled off. I stopped dead in my tracks and asked her to repeat what she had said. I loved the word instantly and quickly asked to know what it meant. During the rest of the conversation, she casually utilized multi-syllable words like preponderance and perilous, and my IQ gained a few points in her presence.

It is the little quirks about each patient that make my job bearable and exciting. Sure, the patient with pneumonia is constantly asking for warm blankets, but she has the sweetest southern twang that will melt your heart when you hear it. Maybe the wobbly patient with the bad hip takes half a century to teeter into the bathroom, but you notice how she carefully places the cheap, disposable toothbrush on a neatly folded paper towel. You imagine the hard life she must have lived and realize you could learn a thing or two from her careful prudence.

My patients have filled me up with priceless moments I will never forget. Like being told that the dripping sound I kept hearing was actually my patient’s artificial heart valves, to which I couldn’t help but squeal and bounce in excitement. Or being told the secret to a happy marriage by a couple in their 90’s, who gazed at each other like they were still giddy from meeting for the first time (It is caring for them more than you care for yourself, if you were wondering). I remember speaking with a tearful mother for hours about the meaning of life and what comes after, as spinal fluid dripped from her son’s nose like a faucet.

Patients require patience.

But ultimately, there is so much to be learned from each nagging call light. We just have to be willing to slow down to see it, or stop talking to hear it.

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