Those of us who live with constant pain know the loneliness and isolation that can come from this life. It’s a phenomenon that is not really understood by others. Like so many of life’s experiences, you have to have “been there.” Sometimes an individual may be relating an incident that ends with the simple statement, “Well, I guess you just had to have been there.” This is usually said when all descriptions fail.
How do you explain a hot, sweaty day in the summer? I have a vivid memory of traveling through the South with my family when I was a child and getting a frosty mug full of A&W root beer. That memory from long ago is so vivid, I can actually feel the frosty outside of that glass mug and the thirst quenching ecstasy of that drink. Memories are such a wonderful cure for self-pity and loneliness. We stopped for ice cream the other day because I needed cheering after a harsh, miserable CT scan at the local hospital. There is no experience to bring back better times than sitting with a sugar cone full of a double dip of classically made ice cream as it runs down your hand and arm while you strive to keep up with the drips. We need to recall joyous memories. They can’t all be bad and those don’t really help us.
Like me, most of you who are reading this have been there for a long time. Whenever I sit down or lie down to write one of these blogs, I am always aware “I am preaching to the choir.” You all know this “song” as well as I do. Okay, all together now let’s choose a literal song, sing out until the neighbors can hear you. How about “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow.”
You who have read my writings for any period of time know how much I love that old spiritual. Sometimes when life become too overwhelming, I find it helps just to belt out those words. I usually feel better afterward and either end up in laughter or tears. How can you relate any experience to someone who hasn’t felt it, seen it or often, doesn’t care?
As a retired RN it shames me to admit there are many individuals in the medical community who start out caring but become calloused by the complaints of others with time’s passage. It has been my experience and observation to see varying types of people; some people who become more sensitive with time and others who begin to turn a “deaf ear.” Is there anything more humiliating than pouring your heart out to a doctor who keeps looking at his watch or is typing his notes while staring at a wall instead of looking at you? I was hospitalized for surgery several years ago and was appalled to see the computers in each patient’s room were located in the corner, facing away from the patient’s bed. In that scenario, one has to wonder if the nurses develop neck problems from turning to look at the patient’s over their shoulders. That is assuming they look at the patients at all and do the assessment a competent nurse is supposed to do, in order to chart accurately and correctly.
You must keep in mind I am an RN from the “old school” of nursing. What a wonderfully caring time that was. We gave wonderful bed baths, backrubs before bed each night, as well as offering a nice hot washcloth for the awakening patient the following morning. These are services a well trained certified medical assistant could and should do, but so often in today’s world of medical care, there simply is not enough time. During one year of my nursing life I was Night supervisor at a small hospital and used to make it a practice to fill a basin with hot water, grab a pile of clean washcloths and a sweet young nurse’s aide and she and I would go up and down the hall offering a wakeup call accompanied by a hot wash cloth. No, we didn’t slap it on the sleeping patient, we awoke them and handed them a nice warm cloth. It also breaks my heart to see how much bad care is currently in existence not only in hospitals but in all the other parts of the out-patient services in a community and even in doctor’s offices. All of this is very fresh in my mind at the moment I am writing this because I have recently had a couple of very negative medical events in own my life as a patient.
I often wonder about the little things in this way of life, like answering a common question on the phone or a checker at the market like “How are you?” That just doesn’t cut it for me. Oh, I know, I’m being picky but I never know what to say. I wonder, does this individual want the absolute truth which they will not really understand or should I lie and say, “Oh, just fine thanks?” Is there anybody out there who really cares?
I know I am very fortunate, because I have many people in my own life who care. The challenge is to sort and prioritize my remarks and complaints with everyone. My dear husband, for instance, would go mad if I told him every minute of the day how I am feeling. It is simply too much for our loved ones when we pour it out onto them like hot oil all the time. There is so little they can do about it. For my spouse, he has had to live with all this garbage for over thirty years and that is a strain on any marriage. We’ve made it to forty years in November so I guess we’re doing okay. All of my grandkids never knew me when I was well. Thankfully, my children do remember that person and I am certain, often miss her. At least I hope they do. I do try to be a bit goofy around the grandkids just so they can get a glimpse of what it was like for their parents when they were children.
We all have to learn to know where our safe zones exist. That is one of the reasons I like writing a blog and being on Facebook with so many folks who live this life. One has to be aware of the overachievers. These are the folks who, when asked where they are on that hideous pain scale rating from 1-10 always yell out, “Oh, I am at least a 12!” I am always tempted to respond, “Oh, come on ducky, nobody wants to talk to a 12.” Life is hard enough living with pain without being an overachiever. Beware of that trap. Save your griping, complaining and whining for the times when you will truly need them and not for the daily aches. Just remember there is no reward for being the sickest one of all…actually, there is and it’s called death. Some reward, huh?
Another area of concern, quite often, for me personally, is the challenge of this island of loneliness. I am constantly being left out of family events I would like to attend but simply cannot due to the pain in my rear or my back. I’m not a very good martyr and do not want to shame and embarrass any member of my family by sobbing through a concert, school performance, etc. A simple dinner out is a wonderful deterrent to loneliness but only if I know what kinds of chairs the restaurant we will be attending have. I am strictly a “Have foam pillow will travel” kind of gal. Where this tush goes, a pillow always follows. Elbows on the table may be gauche but sometimes, that’s the only way one can stay upright and it is truly embarrassing for my companions if I lie down in the booths.
Back to the subject of loneliness, I find reading, correspondence, a good movie or a friendly phone call all help out. How do patients who are restricted in their actions or activities manage life without a pet or two…or three? Pets are the answer to a lonely confined life and beat a human being on the old companion scale every time. The entire animal kingdom holds so much wisdom, love and understanding that is on a totally different plane of existence than humans. Being nurses, both my spouse and I enjoy the veterinary reality shows on TV and you can pick up some fairly good ideas on those for your pets or for yourself. I watched one of the large animal vets stick a large hose in the side of a bloated cow the other day. I often have gastrointestinal trouble. Sure wish some nights someone could stick a big tube in my side. I know, I know, but you have to see the humor in all things. Just briefly, I think it’s okay to want to be a cow.
Humor is one of the best cures for depression and isolationism. The other day I broke a tooth and while at the dentist, his assistant was saying her husband found earphones he has to wear at work were hurting his ears. She told him to put a sanitary napkin under them, over each ear. Of course, no man is going to do that but it did remind me of something I do. I had to share with her and our very convivial dentist that I often put a sanitary napkin over my back where I have two crushed vertebrae to keep the bed or certain pairs of jeans or pants from pressing on that sensitive spot. As I explained, of course they laughed but can you imagine me in the Emergency Room some night and some young hapless ER physician observing this old lady with a Kotex on her lower back. Oh my, I wonder how he would chart that? “Elderly female, call for a psych evaluation.”
Well, my friends, the loneliness can be sad but when it strikes, hug your pet, your husband, your pillow or whatever gives you comfort. It’s only human to cry but better to laugh when you can. If you are a person of faith remember God is love and instead of blaming Him for your circumstance, just try to absorb how one entity can be love. It’s pretty amazing and mind boggling. The concept of love itself is all things wonderful. God who is love is also omnipresent, therefore He never leaves your side; therefore, you are never truly alone.