By John Gonzales
I started to write this from my hospital bed. Now, I’m trying to read my notes; smudged by my own tears – the mortal enemy of the inked word.
My wife had just left for home after spending the last 12 hours sitting on an uncomfortable chair, reassuring me while we tried to watch awful television. Truncated visiting hours over, no overnight stays, one visitor per day; pandemic-related rules, I loathe thee.
The impact of the last few days is now beginning to dawn on me.
My perspective as a senior living industry “expert” and consultant has been turned on its head because of a personal medical emergency. I’ve spent the last few days at the mercy of our healthcare system – the best healthcare system in the world, and still an awful experience. How much worse this must be for others in different parts of the world? For those without access to clean hospital rooms, x-rays, MRIs, and qualified physicians?
Although I’ve worked in the senior living industry for 30 years, and consider myself proficient in teaching emotional intelligence, this is the first time during the course of my career that I have truly “empathized” with what our residents go through.
I experienced a sudden adverse event, followed by a loss of privacy and dignity. I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings, shocked at how quickly I’ve lost all of my independence and mobility. My normally sharp-witted mind is now clouded and confused because of a lack of sleep and the effects of numerous intravenous medications.
I am more emotional than I have been in a very long time. I miss my family, my routine, and my freedom. I’m experiencing waves of fear and dread that things may never go back to the way they were. This isn’t me, but it is what they see.
Does This Sound Familiar?
Even from my hospital bed, the irony isn’t lost on me.
I feel selfish and spoiled in hindsight, complaining about the lack of a DVR, burdened with the first-world problem of watching commercials, and my turkey sandwich being bland, the bread a bit soggy from the gravy. Convicted of my peevishness because there are those all around me fighting much bigger battles than I. The elderly couple hunched over and crying in the emergency room while I was wheeled right by; the distraught woman in a cold hallway with only a hospital gown and shawl, legs uncovered and shivering; the faceless person in the adjacent room buzzing the nurses for pain medications while I was being hooked to an IV.
Thoughts of people being moved into one of our assisted living communities made brief appearances in my mind. Is this what it feels like for them?
But I had one thing most of our residents don’t. I had hope. Hope that the doctors would make me well enough to return to my “life”. That’s something residents moving into assisted living or memory care likely do not have.
So, can I truly empathize with them, even now?
Hearing personal conversations in the hallway while laying in my bed, listening to the nursing staff sharing a much-needed laugh about something totally unrelated to me, made me angry. “Don’t they know I’m hurting emotionally and physically? Don’t they know I’m afraid, I’m lonely, and miss my family to the point of sobbing?”
I was quietly pleading with God for help, “please help me get out of here.” Then hearing Him prompt me to stop praying for myself, but to pray for the other patients. To pray for the elderly couple in the emergency room and for the woman in the hallway. To pray for the patient calling for relief from the pain, and to pray for the victims of accidents coming into the emergency room as announced over the speaker system. And to pray for all those who were caring for them – for the staff.
Turning my perspective outward and away from myself. The essence of emotional intelligence.
Practicing this outward focus is so much easier when all is going well. When life is comfortable and familiar. But now . . . now, I’m strengthening my muscles by running uphill. It’s harder than I realized.
I am home now. And I am humbled. The experience and emotion still fully present in me, so I write. I have to. The lessons for me are too profound not to write about it and share this with you.
I must memorialize this so I don’t forget.