I very recently had occasion to be all night in A&E and, quite honestly, it was the most chaotic I have ever seen it. I won’t delve into the details as to why I was there, as they are personal, but I would like to relate the experience nonetheless.
The waiting room was packed, people were on beds in corridors, extremely sick people were sent out into the waiting area as there wasn’t enough trolley space in the A&E, several people were projectile vomiting, several more were crying their eyes out, and in the middle of it all was an extremely drunk woman shouting and roaring at all the doctors and nurses as if they were all somehow complicit in a plot to lock her away so that she would never be seen by anybody ever again.
Doctors, nurses, and porters, were comprised of all shapes and sizes and all sorts of nationalities and religions and, quite honestly, they were, each and every one of them, the finest examples of humanity I have witnessed in quite some time. United towards a common cause, all of them exhibited extraordinary caring, patience and kindness which is no small thing amidst the chaos they were surrounded by. It was truly inspiring apart from the habit of one that annoyed me profusely by calling everyone “darlin”.
Anyway, amidst all the crying, wailing, overcrowding, and projectile vomiting, all the staff were methodically processing all the patients and categorising each according to perceived risk and, even though many of them looked exhausted, they soldiered on with diligence, decency, and as much patience as patients.
One girl I spoke to had been in since 3pm and it was now 3am and she’d been evicted from her bed on a trolley as another, sicker patient, had arrived. She was resigned to sitting on a chair.
On my various trips up and down the corridor I received multiple requests from elderly patients to lift them up in the bed, grab some belongings from under the bed, reposition a pillow, or assist them in having a wee.
I obliged with one or two basic requests like with the pillow, and felt inclined to lift one particular man up in his bed, but since I’m not staff then obviously such a thing would not be appropriate and anyway, knowing me I would do it wrong and pull his arm off. “I can’t, I’m afraid, but I will notify the staff for you,” I apologetically explained, and I did.
“What’s your name?” asks one man.
“Richard,” I replied.
“But your full name,” he asks, and so I tell him.
“And what is your father’s name?” he wants to know, so I tell him that too.
“And what is your mother’s name?” he pursues, and I tell him that also.
“It couldn’t be!” he exclaims.
“Why not?” I ask.
“Your parents couldn’t have the same surname, it’s not possible!”
“But they were married,” says I.
I found out later that he was a bit confused as he had had a stroke. He seemed a cheerful and friendly gentleman nonetheless.
The night was long, the air filled with the scent of vomit and the sounds of human suffering. It’s funny, with all the posturing people do, with all the pride they have; all the egos; all the hopes, dreams, successes, plans and failures; they all end up right back where they started, in the hospital.
One is born helpless and confused and, if one is lucky, dies old, helpless, and confused.
We come into the world crying tragically at having been ripped from the warm, safe cocoon of our mother’s womb and, if we’re lucky, we’ll touch a few lives in such a positive way that tears will echo through a few nights at the tragedy of our passing.
But we do not die. We live on in the lives of our children. Even if we do not have children, our actions in the world bounce off of other people and echo through eternity and so we live on in that sense at least.
Nothing is ideal. Nothing is guaranteed, only suffering. And the measure of your worth, I think, has nothing to do with how much money you have in your pocket but how much you can muster a smile amidst the suffering that we all must endure in this life. We are all suffering, no matter how we may pretend otherwise. And perhaps those that are the most divine are those that can project cheerful dispositions and so infect the world with a sense of kindness and safety, like the nurses and doctors during my recent visit to the hospital in Galway. When one smiles and laughs one feels brief glimpses of joy, of perfection, and, if only for a little while, the world feels as safe and warm as the womb we once occupied.
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