On the day after the election, it seemed like the whole hospital had this cloud over it. People were walking around doing their jobs, yes. But kind of like they were in some sort of a melancholy fog. If you slowed down long enough, you'd hear the hushed whispers trying to make sense of it all.
"I still can't believe it."
Then, eyes would flit from side to side and next came that split second decision to avoid a discussion of politics in the hospital. I am sensing that there are a lot of liberal people working in a safety net hospital. So even without the conversation, there were the eyes. Those somber glances pleading with one another for some sign that this is all some very bad dream.
The elevator was the worst place of all. Deafening silence that kept me feeling on the tippy-tip edge of tears for the whole ride. People of all hues, some not speaking a word of English but all in this quiet place of uncertainty. And no, it wasn't so much a "who you voted for" thing but just this scary unknown that no one really saw coming.
So I went into that day and felt the heavy of it. Pressing on my shoulder blades and sucking up all of the extra air in the hospital. My team was admitting new patients that morning. It was what it was. Amidst the suffocating feelings of grief and disappointment, the show had to go on.
And so. I saw the first couple of patients with the team and it was cool. Straightforward issues with clear, identifiable solutions. So we talked about those things and laid out a plan and answered the questions that our patients had. We did.
But then I saw him.
He was youngish. And by youngish I mean close to my age which is too young to be navigating the end of life. Here because of the stuff related to all of that. There weren't solutions. Identifiable or otherwise.
And he was this complicated cross between really, really mad and really, really sad. Have you ever seen someone in that place? Like that exact place? Well. I have. And I know it when I see it. It comes out as stinging sarcasm with inappropriate laughter and unfiltered profanity. The kind designed to make everyone in the space uncomfortable but, because of the mad-sad interface, not the concern of the person navigating it. And rightfully so.
So what I've learned to do is just wait. Stand and listen and wait. Acknowledge the mad-sad interface for what it is and not get up in my own feelings, you know? Especially since I, too, was somewhere in that mad-sad interface except I didn't have the luxury of acting on it. See, on a day like the day after this last election? That was a day where it was easy to get impulsively emotional and defensive. So I recognized that and keep my mouth sealed during the mad-sad parts because that's what I signed up for. And my patient? Well, he didn't sign up for anything.
"Tell me what I can do to support you today," I asked.
"You can take this fucked up hand I just got dealt and sprinkle some fairy dust on that shit. Or find me a rainbow with a pot of gold so I can go chill in somebody's VIP section." He laughed.
The team shifted nervously. And me, I just stood there with my eyes trained on his.
"Are you in pain?" I asked. Then I paused for a second and revised that question. "Are you in physical pain that I can help with?"
He seemed to like that question. It's like some kind of glass broke giving me access to the lever of some more authentic piece of him. Eyes squinted, he studied my face for a moment and then replied. "I am in pain. And yeah, Miss Manning. That would be good if you helped me with that."
"How are you doing today?"
"Me?" I pointed at my chest.
"Yeah. You. You look sad and somber like all the folks 'round here. Slow singing and flower bringing and shit. That election really fucked y'all up, huh?" Again, that laugh. Followed by the collective team squirm.
"Well. If I must be honest, I did feel down when I came in today. But something about coming to the hospital and especially meeting you puts some things in perspective, you know?"
"Yeah. Like, 'We don't get to have a lady president but at least I'm not dying a fucked up and painful death like this dude in front of me.'" He turned on his side and propped himself up on an elbow and chuckled to himself. This part was one of the only pieces of control he had remaining. I allowed it.
"I hate seeing what you are going through. And yes, you're right. This is messed up. Far more messed up than the election part. We are the same age pretty much."
"Is that right?"
Something about how he said that made me feel immediately embarrassed and self important. My face started burning and I hoped it wasn't outwardly apparent. I did my best to steel myself. "Yes, sir."
We kept looking at each other for a few more seconds. Him on that elbow and me with my feigned resolve. I went on. "I am going to work on better controlling your physical pain. I am going to listen to you and be honest with you. Whatever I'm saying outside of your room will be what we talk about inside your room. And though I can't take this away, I am going to do my best with my team to not make it worse."
"I'd like that."
We wrapped things up and headed out of the room. I sent the team off to conference and prepared to go. Then I realized that I'd left my ink pen next to the sink and stepped back inside. "Forgot something, sir. Sorry to bother you again."
"It's cool, Miss Manning."
"Alright then, sir." I pushed the door handle preparing to leave.
"Hey, Miss Manning?"
I paused. "Sir?"
"I like you, man."
For the first time, I laughed, too. "I like you, too."
"You honest. I like that."
I shrugged in response.
"Tell me this. . . . you feel sorry for me, don't you?"
I sifted through my brain for a meaningful reply but decided that anything that seemed scripted or too P.C. would frustrate him again.
"I feel sorry for both of us. Sorry for you having to go through this and sorry for me that the world doesn't get the full you because of this disease. But yeah. My heart does feel sorry specifically for you. I'd be lying if I said anything other than that."
He sat up in the bed and smiled at me. This time genuine and not remotely sarcastic. "I feel sorry for me, too."
I stepped away from the door and reached back to shake his hand. It was pretty much all I had left short of crying. "I'll see you a little later, okay?"
"Okay. And thanks for not being scared."
Still shaking his hand, I responded, "Who says I'm not scared as hell?"
He nodded, released my hand and pointed. Then he snapped his finger. "Well, thanks for not hiding."
I pressed my lips together and sighed. Raising one hand, I stepped outside of the door.
Then I went to the nearest bathroom, locked the door and cried and cried.