Friday, June 13, 2008

Suffering is Good

Suffering is good, because it’s the truth. I learned that working at the hospital. When the old man in the bed says, “It hurts,” or “I want to die,” he isn’t playing a game, or trying to be my friend, or wanting to impress me -- it’s just the truth and nothing else and we say the truth is good and beautiful. So there it is.

I work at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, Washington. My daughter, Eva, was born in that hospital in 1979. Dr. Logan was the obstetrician. Eva came out all pretty. The nurse washed her and combed her hair -- she was born with nice, black curly hair -- and ever since then I’ve thought that Skagit Valley Hospital was a pretty good place.

Dr. Logan is still catching babies at the Birth Center. I saw him awhile ago near the cafeteria. I reminded him about my daughter’s birth and thanked him

Three reasons why people void going to the hospital:
1. Death
2. Pain
3. Confinement

Death, the biggest fear, is also the easiest to define. The heart stops beating, breathing stops, and the brain becomes unconscious. It is clear and certain, completely and utterly, dead gone, most assuredly not alive, kicked the bucket, bought the ranch, pushing up daisies. Death is most certain and most equal -- it happens to everybody. It’s what happens after death that is so debatable. Those who believe in the soul might discover that they don’t have one, or vice versa. But the main choices seem to be reincarnation, heaven, hell, the astral plane or oblivion.
I am afraid to die, although the adventure of it is somewhat appealing. I lack religious certainty. I have strong spiritual thoughts and feelings, just not the kind of certainty you can take to the bank. My code of conduct is derived from established models. I have a conscience -- when I break those rules, I feel guilty.

Otherwise, I have no special approach to this looming reality, but I am afraid to die. It is so damned irreversible -- that dying room you enter and never leave. So many years of outdoor living, camping, and working outside as a landscaper is because of my innate claustrophobia. Specifically, I am afraid of dying in a room, and I hope, when the time comes, that they can put me in the patio in the back yard, so that the last thing I see is the sky, and the last thing I feel is breeze on my face. That sounds good.

So it has been instructive to spend time with older patients who are facing their last days. The same thing will happen to me some day, so it’s good to learn.
What surprises me is how little fear the old ones have. It may be their next to last day, but they don’t waste time whining about it. It’s probable because they are more certain than I am that the day is coming. They are more accepting of it, ready for the adventure of it. They do say that old age isn’t for sissies. You have this body that just isn’t working anymore. Everything keeps breaking. The doctors fix one thing, but them something else breaks. The meaning becomes clear -- it’s over. And they face it without terror, with or without religion.

It’s often harder on the loved ones gathered around.

Anyway, I have my own death figure out. It will be in the parking lot of the 7-11 convenience store, maybe the one over in Mount Vernon. I’ll be getting out of the car and walking into to get some coffee or something, and I’ll be hit by a blinding stroke and drop like a stone onto the pavement, stone dead, so dead my head bounces when I hit, and the people will rush around and look at the old man lying there.
I like the mundane quality of this departure.

I remember when the doctors put my father on a salt-free diet because of his high blood-pressure. That was in 1974 and it pretty much killed him. They didn’t know how much my father loved to eat. Mom used to make him spare ribs and sauerkraut, and it would almost bring tears to his eye, he loved it so much.

But they took the salt away from him, and then he died. They said it was heart failure, ha! He died from loss of appetite. He told me, one of his last words, “If it tastes good, I can’t eat it.” They shouldn’t have taken the salt away from my father. Why not let somebody die as they lived? Truth be told, he wasn’t going to last long anyways. Heck, they should have given him a martini and let him go out with a smile one his face.

Fear of pain and confinement are the two more reasons to avoid the hospital -- I will address those questions next.

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