“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~ John Muir.
One of the features of my childhood was cuts and scrapes. I suppose they are a feature for any child who is allowed to explore and climb, to run, jump and play, and fall down. For some children (especially in Jamaica where I grew up), life is filled with chores, and at an early age kids are required to tie out animals in the bush, help with farming or housework. For them the cuts and scrapes they acquire are harder earned. But the body is amazing. Without much outside interference, perhaps a good scrub, and a touch of your family’s favorite antiseptic (which in Jamaica might be the good old-fashioned Mercurichrome, applied with a feather, leaving that red ink stain). Bandaids were rare, and would probably fall off anyway.
I can actually remember the amazement I felt, recognizing that I was growing up, when one day I realized that neither of my kneecaps were scabbed. There were no partially healed or fresh cuts on either knee. I could not remember a time when at least one or other of them was sporting such an injury! Childhood injuries are usually superficial, mostly able to heal on their own. Even a fractured bone will knit back together through the clever work of bone cells, some which send fibers across the divide, others which build new cells, and the destroyers that cleverly remodel, to clean away and smooth the fractured area like new. It helps if a cast has held the pieces of bones together, immobilized and in alignment.
We have come a long way since the days when we relied on potions and poultices, remedies supplied by the local healers. Nowadays we expect blood tests and x-rays, complex diagnostic tests that will pinpoint the area of defect. The physician may rely more on those results, scanned over to him by computer, interpreted by a highly paid pathologist or radiologist, than on his or her own knowledge of the patient.
I recently had a few months of disquiet, based on one single lab result. I had to switch primary physicians (insurance change), and so my new doctor ordered a slew of lab tests. According to the results I had Stage 3 Kidney disease. Which was weird, considering I had no risk factors, and no prior indication. But who was I to assume I could never be sick? I went back and looked at my prior lab results, and although everything was normal, I did detect a trend towards abnormal. So I went for a slew of scans, became an impatient patient, trying to uncover the cause.
When the scans revealed some insignificant (unremarkable – which is good) cysts here and there, the doctor wanted to do more CAT scans, with intravenous contrast. But that is not good for the kidneys. So I suggested that perhaps we could repeat the blood tests. Was it possible that the abnormal result was actually incorrect? And to my relief and gratitude, this time there was no evidence of kidney disease. I am pretty sure that had my previous physician (who has known me for over 15 years) seen the first set of results she would have repeated them rather than start off the investigation. In the process I learned a new sense of appreciation for my kidneys!
But it taught me a valuable lesson: be your own advocate. There was a time, even though I am a nurse, when I would have not wanted to question, not wanted to make suggestions. But unless you play an active role in your own health, you may end up on the receiving end of all manner of medical errors.
I had long ago recommended to friends (who may not be in the healthcare field) that if they or a loved one has to go in the hospital, be sure to accompany them. Ask questions, I suggested, make the nurses and doctors explain what they are doing and why. Be curious! And here we are in a world where visitors are excluded, family members are forced to stay on the outside. How scary for them, even scarier for those inside. And the role of the nurse as communicator, facilitator, and surrogate has expanded. I cannot imagine how it must be for all of the parties in this new reality.
Our society is currently trying to heal from its recent sickness, a malady, as the historian Timothy Snyder describes it. We have heard much talk of this healing over the past few days, and for once we have woken up feeling as if a burden has been lifted. But healing does not come in a moment, nor can we be assured that the disease has been cured. There is much more work to do.
This week we were inspired by the words of a poet, a young one at that. And wordsmiths everywhere felt proud, to know that so many people could be moved by some well-crafted lines that spoke to the heart and soul of America. Many of those in the area of the arts and humanities have begged for more inclusion in the healing process. Sometimes it is a story, a play, a work of fiction that can help to illustrate the truth and promote empathy, especially when there are such divisions in our society. It is scary to read on social media, the posts of those who have believed the lies propagated by the few. Friends of friends who are ill-informed, who do not believe that this country was literally built on a foundation of systematic racism. Friends of friends who are unwilling to acknowledge the facts: that the deck has been stacked against people of color since the first Native Americans were eradicated from this country.
This Friday morning I am happy to say that it feels as if the patient has turned the corner, but the rehabilitation will be intense, and there may need to be additional surgery in the future. The medicine may sting, and it will be up to the patient to do the hard work of recovery, being their own advocate, asking questions, but recognizing that it is the effort that will bring about that more perfect union. And as the young poet Amanda Gorman exhorted us, let us see the light, let us be the light.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!