Philosophy blossoms when the physician keeps you in bed

Not long ago I compared hospital emergency rooms with the ninth circle of Dante’s inferno, a place where poor souls waited to see where they would be sent.  This time, after a day and a half watching a stream of troubled beings come and go, I was promoted from emergency to the fifth floor ward for an extended treatment of antibiotics that required two days between intravenous dosages.

I had not eaten in that time and the first morning I was pretty hungry.   I was brought coffee con leche and a butter sandwich made with two slices of white bread.  I was also reading “The Life of Pi” and was just in the part where he was the hungriest and contemplating eating his fellow passenger’s droppings when my breakfast arrived.

On the one hand I could imagine Pi being overjoyed to get bread and butter.  On the other hand, I remembered a friend of mine who opened a very successful sandwich shop.  She told me the secret of a good sandwich was to spread the butter or mayonnaise to the very edge of the bread to keep it moist.  The hospital cook did not know this secret.  I also recalled reading once that the bread and water prisoners a hundred years ago were served was nutritious enough given the quality of wheat, etc. for them to survive.

The woman in the bed next to me was hugely obese diabetic.  She never left her bed, or her back.  Out of necessity she required more attention than the remaining five of us combined.

With two days and nothing to do, I entertained myself with my thoughts (besides becoming addicted to free cell on my iPad since the Wi-Fi available at the hospital was for doctors, only, I was told).

For some reason Thomas Kuhn’s theory about paradigms and a lecture I had attended years before by a physicist on the systems theory kept coming together in my perhaps feverish brain.  The world, I felt is headed for disaster unless there is a paradigm shift in the way we perceive things.  (And then Anais Nin entered the conversation with her insightful, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ) It was, I thought, necessary to see everything in terms of systems.  No longer could we study single cells and predict their properties and behavior any more than we could study an animal isolated in a cage and extrapolate that species’ behavior.  The same with a person.

I attempted to tell the doctor that I was not just an infection and a problem heart.  Those parts of me were part of a system and the whole person needed care so it could work together to get better.

Hospitals, at their best, are no happy place to be.  My friend Michale told me about her sister-in-law who was in a hospital room for 300 days fighting a losing battle with leukemia.  She so wanted to be at the beach instead of where she was that Michale decorated and furnished her room as if it were at the beach. Doctors and nurses were constant visitors just to enjoy the cheerful change.  My ward was no day at the beach.

What I really needed was to go home where I could care for all of me. Eventually the doctor agreed and sent me home with some powerful antibiotics to take for the next five days. The day I found myself in the kitchen chopping onions, I knew I was on the mend.

Thank you to those who were concerned and asked about me.  I missed writing my column as much as I missed my apartment, and even the view of the stadium from my office window.

I am now trying to ignore the lure of free cell and get back to “The life of Pi,” appreciating that my situation was not nearly as dire as his.

That’s the way it always is, isn’t it?  The last time I was in the hospital I had a private room with TV and got to watch the Katrina disaster unfold in Louisiana.

Maybe it is time we stopped seeking dominion over the world and consider ourselves a part of the whole system, a system that has a lot of sick parts that need help from the healthy parts.

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