Monday Musings...Staying Afloat on a Sea of Suffering

Round Two.

As I sat in the ‘Bubble’ with the one that I love, a steady stream of paramedics and long board stretchers surfed into the already overcrowded beach party. The music of sirens, saline drips, and wheeling sonogram carts flowed steadily through the mosh pit where everyone was clambering for a front row seat. Apparently they call the north, south, east, and west areas beyond triage the “Bubble” zones, instead of “Pods”, believing it has a friendlier tone. I'm not sure a change of verbiage could change the tide of overwhelming pain, grief and suffering that kept rolling in.

In came the elderly woman, whose pallor indicated she was not far from death, only to be told nothing could be done… the door revolved and she was sent back to the nursing home… her husband softly stroking her tear-stained face uttering whispers of comfort.

Then came an inebriated gentleman, an apparent repeat customer, battle worn and weary from years of abuse to his liver and mind, clinging to his 5-iron and shouting incomprehensible statements, making the elderly woman with dementia, who was 2 feet away, shrink and clutch closely to her carefully crocheted, candy-coated cardigan.

A mother and daughter rode the next wave, having been tossed through the ravages incurred from a motor vehicle accident. A middle-aged woman, speaking in a foreign tongue, cried out with no translator to come to her aid. A frightened young girl wailed relentlessly as her elevated leg swelled and her face drained of its colour. An older man, admitted on a Form 1, lay quietly, with his eyes staring blankly into the relentless river of disease and despair.

Though capacity was full, and privacy was non-existent, each person lay there alone, as on a desert island, struggling with their physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain. Waiting, ever waiting, for care, for comfort, for relief and restoration of health. Weakness and helplessness abounded. Where, oh where, was the life boat?

Tom Hanks, in the movie Cast Away, faced a similar fate. The successful FedEx employee, who perpetually deferred relational commitment, found himself washed ashore an uninhabited island after his company plane crashed. Having been a slave to the clock, his new imprisonment had no fixed schedule. He wondered perpetually when he would be delivered from this fate. Faced with challenges that he was certainly unprepared and untrained for, time showed him no mercy. The famous scene of his dental extraction is one most of us repress until we too have an unbearable toothache. Rescue, relief, restoration – in what form will it come for those who suffer?

Wilson – the inanimate object of Tom Hanks’ affection – provides temporary assistance in the absence of human contact. In desperation or delusion, he anthropomorphizes the volleyball and so it becomes his therapist, his guide, his unconditional support until it too drifts away. He, like the inhabitants of hospitals, most go through things alone.

As I walked through the all too familiar hallways of the hospital, day after day, my attention turned to those who, like me, were also alone, waiting and wondering. We stood like sentinels in the elevators, with Wilson-like expressions on our faces, as we drifted apart when the door opened and we got off on our respective floors. And so I wondered, how many people are barely staying afloat, on the sea of life as they get tossed about by unexpected storms? My elevator comrades, like myself, don’t wear the bandages, or get wheeled about by porters, or wait to get bones set in place, ours is a different kind of suffering. A silent suffering, in a different mosh pit, but we are crowded there at the shore just the same.

Everyone has their hidden woes and worries. Everyone. Time indeed shows no mercy; it is merely a matter of time before difficult circumstances arise for reach of us. The reality is that we cannot go through life without trials. For millennia, people have tried to figure out ‘why’ this needs to be the fate of humans.

The answer is simple: trials expose our weaknesses and imperfections; they take our inclination towards independence and makes us ask for help. Weakness, imperfection, asking for help. Why are these seen as negative states? Rather, trials, and the emotions they cause, are the necessary catalysts of perseverance and resilience. Tom Hanks would never have known the mercy provided by a skate blade, had he not experienced his pain. When things hurt so badly, we try whatever we can to find release.

Suffering may limit us in one or more domains, whether we are the patient or the caregiver. Trials are something we must weather alone in our body, mind, and spirit, but staying afloat, holding on to our source of hope, and pushing through and persevering when we feel like giving up is what we must do. The waters of life are rarely still. It’s easier to ride with the wave, than fight against it.

“I know what I have to do now, I have to keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide will bring.” (Tom Hanks, Cast Away)

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