It wasn’t his looks that caught my attention, it was his blank stare that looked way past me that made me more intrigued. It was as if he was looking at me, but somehow was able to look past me. For a moment, I stood there fascinated by that stare, and I forgot that just over an hour ago, I was grumbling to myself for having to wake up earlier to see him.
I woke up at 4am, reaching on my side, I grabbed my handphone and squinted hard in the darkness to read the messages that had come pouring in. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. There you are, the post in my Orthopaedics group about which patient that we were to review the next day. Damn it, I had to review a patient in the acute bed, and after a good weekend getaway in the city, having to review a new patient in that cubicle was just not my cup of tea. I must have dozed off for a bit, when I woke up again, it was already 6am. As usual, there was silence. It’s a lonely job. I live with 2 more housemates, but we barely bump into one another due to our different schedules. I took a long hot shower, savouring every drop I could. It was going to be a long day ahead. 11pm just ain’t going to pass by soon.
As I reached the hospital, the dark and gloomy parking lot made me feel even more gloomy. Just another day, hoping it will pass by in a blur. Like clockwork, I went to thumbprint before 7, and sluggishly took long strides into the ward where I worked. I grabbed the file of the patient that I would be reviewing and scanned through quickly his history. Holding the file, I stopped in my tracks as I stood at his bed, I looked at him, as he, looked at me. A second passed by, and I was still standing there, looking at his stare. It was as if his body was there, but his mind and soul was drifting through the morning mist, enjoying the cool breeze, a smile formed at the edge of his lips as I called out to him. And there he was, 13.
I shall call him 13, this was his bed number. 13 looked at me and smiled again, good morning, he managed to call out to me. I had gotten so used to treating sick patients that sometimes, it was just a job. But today, it felt different. Looking at him, I did not want it to be just a job, I wanted it to be my passion. 13 was a paraplegic, meaning he was paralyzed from the waist down. He could slightly budge his upper body, but the rest, was just like a carcass attached to his body. He was 18 when it happened, he was involved in a motorbike accident. I don’t know whether it was his fault or not, I did not dare to ask him. But here he was, 18 years later, still a paraplegic and he has been living in this condition for 18 years. He is now 36.
By his side, was a woman of great patience, his mother. A small, scrawny old woman whose facial lines showed the grief that had stricken her, but her face was a picture of calm and patience. She was the one who had been taking care of him since day one, and she, has never left his side. 13 was different from my other patients. He wanted to live. He did not want to die. He wanted to be able to see what others saw, do what others do, eat what others could, but sadly, he could not. He was just….there.
I could not help but hold his hand while I talked to him, asking permission to check his body, to see the damage that bed bound has brought to him. He smiled again and said, he was so used to this, he did not mind, but he reminded me to be gentle, no matter how bad he looked now, he was still, in essence, a human being. I needed help to turn him over, and when I did, it wasn’t pretty. It was worse than I thought. Due to him being bed ridden for a long time, he had developed a really bad pressure sores . A pressure sore are localized injuries to the skin and underlying tissue. And when it is at its worst, it can go all the way to reveal the bone.
I had to take blood from 13 today, as his body was in a very bad condition, it was difficult to find a vein to withdraw blood from. He pleaded for me to take blood from his legs, I could poke as much as I wanted, he said, as he could not feel anything there. Please lessen the pain. Please lessen the pain that I can feel. I was so sad to hear his pleas. I wish I could reduce his burden, I really do, I wish I could do more than I can now. He did not need pity, but he needed compassion.
I wasn’t the only one affected by him, many of my colleagues feel the same. We imagine ourselves in his shoes, fighting for his life everyday. But still able to survive 18 years. It made me feel humbled, I had nothing to complain about. I am a healthy person, and I complain about the smallest of things. Oh how ashamed I am of myself.
It is a sad story to tell, but by seeing him everyday, his will to live, I feel in awe at his spirit. And to see my colleagues, nurses, doctors alike help him everyday just makes me believe in humanity.
Now when I wake up in the morning, I try not to grumble again. I have so many things to be thankful and happy about. Maybe the world would be a better place without grumblers like me, and it would be a strong world with spirits like 13.
Thank you 13, for teaching me the meaning of gratitude. I hope you make it. You will always be in my prayers.