Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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Emptiness

Lately I’ve been feeling a certain kind of emptiness. Like something’s missing; there’s a hole that.. didn’t used to exist. It’s as though I’m less than my former self. You see, I recently had two of my wisdom teeth taken out and now there’s these two holes toward the back of my upper jaw.

Actually, the procedure did not at all live up to its unspeakable legend. Perhaps because they were only the uppers, which are supposedly easier to extract than the lower wisdom teeth. Perhaps because they just wanted to come out so badly. Perhaps because I’ve got a great dentist here in Cleveland (this is probably the real reason). But both were done in under forty-five minutes, with the only pain being from the local anesthetic injection (the one on the inside of the roof of the mouth always hurts, despite the topical numbing agent he applied first).

The more interesting part was the cab ride. My driver was an interesting guy who immigrated to the US, although I’m not sure from where. I told him I worked around Case Western, but didn’t mention working in healthcare or being a medical student. Which he didn’t assume, as he spent several minutes railing against science for its lack of progress on such things as curing AIDS and making paralyzed people walk. He said nurses only care about themselves and not about their patients (boy, my experience has been nothing but the complete opposite – most nurses I’ve interacted with care very deeply about their patients).  And he mentioned something along the lines of how awful it was that those scientists haven’t cured me yet. I chose not to get into a heated debate, and merely stated that it can be frustrating how slow things seem to move sometimes, but that people are actively researching these topics heavily.

After bashing people in healthcare, he proceeded to tell me about how his wife left him.  He returned home one day, and she was just gone – no explanation or anything. I won’t pretend to know the details of his marriage or make any assumptions, but his caustic, constant negativity certainly didn’t make me want to talk to or spend any more time with him than was necessary.

Later in the ride he asked “who cooks for you?” and if I have brothers or sisters to help out. I gave him a somewhat quizzical, “I cook for myself,” with a look intended to convey that his question was quite silly in nature. Now, don’t get the idea I’m a master chef whipping up four-course meals every day. I’m not, and I don’t. I never have. But I cook the same as I always have, no more, no less.

He looked back and said something to the effect of, “I feel sorry for you.” Not in a condescending way – at least, not intentionally. “Don’t,” I said, and I proceeded to explain why he shouldn’t and that he shouldn’t think of my life as any different from anybody else’s. I mean, sure there are the obvious differences. But I’ve never been a fan of the whole pity thing. Plenty of people in life have to do things a little differently than what’s typical. He was surprised.

I guess here’s where I could fairly easily segue into the loneliness of his life, but I try not to make assumptions like that. What I do know is that I wouldn’t want to live my life with such a negative outlook on people and events as the driver seemed to demonstrate. To me, that seems a whole lot more un-fun than living with a spinal cord injury. But I don’t know anything about his life, and it could be vastly different than I perceived on what could have just been an abnormal day for him.  We all have those. However, the experience has made me even happier that I’ve got the positive outlook I do on life. It’s made me appreciate how my approach to challenges isn’t, “oh, I can’t do that,” but rather, “hmm, ok, how do I do that?”  And that makes me happy.

Several days later a guy at a bus stop did a very nice favor for me in a completely respectful, non-condescending way that really was incredibly positive. But I have to leave something to tell for next time…

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