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Omer Day 20: The Hospital Stay: Being Vulnerable and Needing Compassion from Myself and Others

Things I hate: being sick, being a hospital patient, being vulnerable and needy and in pain and tired and all of the above. 

I just spent the past 48 hours in the hospital. 

A badly sprained lower back muscle or two took me down while I was making the bed (these household chores really are deadly, am I right?). I couldn't move and finally had to call 911 to get me to the ER. Multiple doses of a cocktail of meds didn't touch the pain, so they admitted me for "pain management" and to determine the cause. 

Hospitals - at least the one I went to - don't handle "pain management" really well. They're equipped to fix a problem, but freewheeling pain? Not so much. And in the 21st Century medical world, where patients are given the responsibility and honor of self monitoring, medical professionals forget that the most vulnerable patient may not be able to even know what s/he needs, much less have the physical or emotional strength to ask for it. 

I wasn't dying, I wasn't there for a horrible reason, and I didn't want to be a bother or burden an already overworked staff. I was in pain and wanted simultaneously to go home and feel comfortable. And I was vulnerable and tired and needy and hurting and feeling like I was taking up space and time that someone ill and truly deserving should have.

Hospital communication can be miserably ineffective. Here I was, with a sort-of plan of action, and I still couldn't get or understand a straight answer. The nurses and doctors assumed I understood what was going on (an impression I gave them because I didn't want to be a burden, remember?), but the reality was that I was confused and just needed someone to be in charge and talk to me. And that's hard to come by in a 21st Century hospital system. The professionals assumed I was under and in control; they couldn't have been more wrong. Vulnerable, hurting, and scared people are NEVER in control of their own selves; that's just a truism. 

Here's the lesson for the 20th day of the Omer (serendipitously focuses on the blend of compassion and being aware of the need for support for ourselves and others):

Of course we want people - ourselves included - to take responsibility for our needs and wants. We want people to take ownership of their Judaism just like like their medical treatment and personal dignity. But sometimes the reality is that not everyone knows how to do that and/or can't because of physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual reasons. Someone people in need feel too vulnerable and scared to ask for help. 

It's at times like these that we - I - need to make it easier for people. 

If nurses can come into a patient's room in the middle of the night to take "vitals," they can ask a patient dealing with pain issues, "What's your pain level? Do you need or want to take something?" They can point-blank tell a patient hospitalized for pain management issues, "I'm here to make sure you're not in pain. That's my job." 

And each of us - myself included - can open a door and start a conversation with someone who is in spiritual or emotional trouble or pain: How are you feeling? What are you feeling? I'd like to help, can you tell me what you need or want? Can I offer to sit with you and help you parse out what you're experiencing? 

The more doors we open, the more people can feel safe asking for help (or not - and that's ok, too). 

Open the doors to loving compassion for yourself and others. That's today's Omer. 


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