Sometimes the world feels like a bleak and dismal place.
Today I saw an very old and bent woman trying to cross the street. She had a little cart in front of her and one of those long white canes with the red tip-- you know, for blind or visually impaired people. I was at the opposite corner, in my car, making a left-hand turn. She was trying to walk across the street and I could tell she had gotten confused about which way she was going because she was tapping her cane on both sides of the curb and stepping in and out of the street and meanwhile the cars coming toward her had a green light. I couldn't do anything, I was in my car praying that someone closer to her would notice her and help her. Finally, just as a big black SUV came barreling toward her through the intersection, a young woman pulled her out of the street. And I was SO RELIEVED. But I was also irritated-- because WTF, SUV? I know that San Francisco in general and that neighborhood in particular is a place with jaywalkers aplenty but you and I both know that there is a big difference between 'Joe I'vegottabesomewhereinahurry' and the LITTLE OLD BLIND WOMAN crossing the street. So how about CALMING THE FUCK DOWN AND HITTING THE BREAKS?!
And then the other day I heard about a patient who had been tricked by a young man into signing away a bunch of her money and property to him and but he was never prosecuted because she died.
I remember also when I was working at a senior center and somebody STOLE a bunch of stuff from the computer room and I was like, seriously? You're stealing from a nonprofit senior center?
And I remember a couple years ago there was a video on the news about a young man who mugged an old woman. He punched her in the face and knocked her over, her walker fell on top of her. He stole her purse which had, like, seven dollars inside it.
Sometimes it is incredibly hard to walk into a nursing home and see people in their dim rooms with feeding tubes, skinny limbs, pressure sores, lying semi-conscious for days or weeks or years.
It is so difficult to watch the decline of Alzheimer's disease-- the confusion, the frustration, the loss. Or people who had sudden strokes. One day they were fine, and the next they can't remember how to speak.
It hurts to see people who were once whole and happy and well become sick and suffering. It breaks my heart to see people suffer. And there is so much suffering.
Cancer. Dementia. Cancer. Dementia. Arthritis. Heart disease. Stroke. Kidney failure. Parkinson's. Cancer. Dementia.
Sometimes I feel like I want to just lay down and go to sleep and pretend I don't see or hear all the pain.
And sometimes there are other stories. Other people.
One of the patients I saw the other day was a very old woman with severe dementia. She has a caregiver who lives with her and provides all of her care, including feeding, bathing, toileting, and dressing. The caregiver takes the woman outdoors whenever the weather is nice, brings her to church, invites her own family over, and plays music for her. The caregiver is paid a small stipend by the church because the woman doesn't have any family.
When I met her the caregiver was cheerful and bubbly. She has been caring for the woman for about 5 years and is going to continue for the rest of the woman's life.
I examined the woman on my visit and noted that she was impeccably well cared for. Her clothes were fresh and her mouth was clean and even her feet were moisturized with neatly trimmed toenails.
The woman had no bedsores-- because the caregiver sleeps on a mat on the floor in the woman's room and gets up every hour to turn her. Every hour.
Sometimes, all it takes is one person like this to remind me why I keep doing this.
I can't cure the world or end suffering, but I can keep learning and working and trying and helping and caring. And maybe I can make a difference in someone's life.