The Meaning of the Moment

It’s been a tough week. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I know my dad has been dreading this week for a while. On Monday he had a hip replacement. I didn’t go on-line to watch the videos of hip replacement surgery. I think my imagined version of what must happen is vivid enough.

The surgery was routine and I was able to visit on Tuesday. As I walked the halls looking for my dad’s room, I could hear some poor devil screaming as a nurse offered encouraging words in a sing-song voice. I shivered as I walked past the room. When I walked into room 121 it was empty. I didn’t think the worst, just moved back through the halls asking each nurse I saw if they knew where my dad was. Nobody had heard of him.

My sister appeared from the door of the room of the screaming man. It was my dad’s room. (gulp) As I walked in I could hear the pain in his voice asking where his medication was. The nurse was explaining as if to a pre-schooler that it wasn’t yet time for his medication. I became instantly irritated.

My dad has been in terrible pain for years leading up to this event and is well versed in the ways of narcotic pain medication. My own experience with chronic pain has left me with an unwanted familiarity with narcotics as well as the prejudices surrounding them. While we congratulate ourselves heartily for relieving animals of pain, we can’t seem to find the same compassion for human suffering. Any request for pain relief is seen as drug seeking and the condescending attitudes of many well-meaning people are both frustrating and insulting.

My dad is tough. I’ve never seen him so close to the edge of losing his composure as I did that day. The nurses were great. They were doing their best to move him through what must be the normal routine of their week. They asked him what his pain level was out of ten points. In a shaking, quiet voice he forced out the word,”Ten.”  They didn’t hear him. I told them, “He said ten.” “Oh! Ten? Is that right?” My dad nodded.

One nurse in particular assured me that the old man was simply confused. She said he wasn’t used to the narcotics. A light went on. He WAS used to the narcotics and the levels on his chart were the same as what he had been taking in the months leading up to the surgery. I asked what the schedule was. How many hours between dosages? She said she hadn’t checked. I asked if she might do that.

At this point, out of the blue, a doctor that had purchased my parents’ home years ago wandered in having seen my dad’s name on the patient list. He just wanted to say hello and wish my dad well. As they spoke, my father let him know that he was in terrible pain and was not getting any medication. He said the staff had an almost panic reaction when he asked for medication. He’d just been through an unimaginable session of movement therapy and he struggled not to cry as he spoke with the well-meaning visitor. The doctor said he’d go look into it.

When he came back the good Samaritan doctor told my dad he was right. He was six hours past the time when he should have had pain medication and someone would be in shortly to hook him up. I had to get to work so I headed out.

As I left the hospital, the nurse assured me again that my dad was just confused because of the narcotics and I had to tell her that he hadn’t had any narcotics and he wasn’t confused. He was in pain. She asked if I wanted her to get him some medication and I said I thought that was a great idea.

That wouldn’t be the only mix up with his meds over the course of the week, but that isn’t why I’m writing. The whole situation reminded me of when my first son was born.

As the staff moved through their routine, they forgot to call my doctor and while I was pushing I heard the nurse say to the resident, “I’ll prepare a local.” I knew they were planning an episiotomy which I had expressly forbidden in my birth plan. Unfortunately, since they hadn’t spoken to my doctor, they had no idea about what I might want. It was as though I were not really even there.

The thing is, it was anything but routine to me. I was having a baby! I knew I didn’t want to be sliced from stem to gudgeon and I expressed as much to the two women working with me. “Oh.” they said, “a cut is better than a tear.”  I didn’t care. I pushed my son out on the wave of the next contraction and the episiotomy conversation became moot.

In the days that followed, the nurses would scoff at the tiny tear. One stitch? Two? I was grateful that my son entered the world when he did. I’m not sure I could have withstood any arguments about the pros and cons of episiotomies. But the point is this…

When we are good at our work, it becomes routine. In order to be good at something, it must become somewhat routine and the work of nurses is beyond what most of us can imagine. The nurses I met this week were good. They were kind and they were efficient but it only took one of them not listening or not checking to bring about incredible suffering.

Back to my dad. A couple of days after the first drug debacle, the nurse that assured me of my father’s confusion came in the room and my mom said to her,”He didn’t use the bed pan so we took it out from under him.” The nurse sighed and replied,”Well, I’m going to need help.” She went out into the hall and called impatiently for assistance and came back in the room snapping on her gloves. I knew she hadn’t listened to my mom and had only heard,”bed pan” so I said,”He didn’t use it. We’ve already taken it out of the bed”. “Oh!” she said, surprised,”Thank you!”

All of this has brought me to meditate on what it means to be in the moment. We hear it all the time but it’s easier said than done, especially when we’re good at something. It’s easy to just go through the motions. When we drive; are we driving? …or are we thinking about what we need to do at work, or what so and so said to us yesterday?

For the foreseeable future I’m going to try to abandon routine in each moment, whether I’m working, playing or driving. I want to be more aware of everyone with whom I come into contact. I will try to leave my suppositions and prejudices behind and to let my suspicious nature have a rest. Maybe it will provide some relief or maybe it may just make some other person feel heard.

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