Dissecting Grief

My rotation through Internal Medicine started off with a month-long stint in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Names were often misleading in the hospital regarding what types of patients you were going to encounter; I would see patients strolling into the Emergency Room for the common cold and another patient with trauma and major parts of his hand missing to the “low-key” walk-in outpatient clinic. However, the ICU was perhaps the most aptly titled unit I had rotated through, and the experience was intense in more ways than one. Where I was often used to seeing ten different patients with one acute problem elsewhere, I now saw one patient with ten chronic problems here. Looking back now, the entire month was one big blur where days bled into one another, quick rounds turned into endurance-testing marathons, and one dysfunctional organ system precipitated the downfall of another, like dominoes.

The ICU renders itself as a gateway for the acutely and chronically weak, patient’s whose lives are literally placed in the mercy of a higher power: what that power is depends on who you ask. I would be lying however, if I didn’t admit that the ICU has a distinct aura of holiness. Family members often tiptoe and whisper in profound deference to the medical team and to the patients as if the patency of the patients’ airways depends directly on their ability to minimize all sound. All who enter seek antidotes for their crisis, a distress composed of both physical and emotional elements and sometimes, the emotional masquerading as physical. Replace the pews with endless stretchers, the stronghold confessional with a curtain-veiled bed, and a priest cloaked in black bearing a cross with a physician shrouded in white bearing a stethoscope. Trade religious fervor for actual fevers, church bells for code calls. Some find God in a stained glass, we see god in a CBC. What we lack in offering salvation and moral and spiritual guidance, we make reparations for by providing physical and mental relief often in the form of pharmacological deliverance.

However, just as prayers are often not enough, so are the limitations of science. What do you do when your knowledge is failing, your faith wavering? When you’re forced to make a home out of a barricade? Continue reading

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Vicissitudes

Vicissitude. I first encountered the word while reading Middlemarch a couple days ago. With my trusty kindle (I assure you, this is not a plug), I scrolled over and let the electronic gadget do the work in telling me what exactly this gigantic word means. However, unlike a lot of other vocabulary I’ve espied over the years in books, magazines, and the sort, this particular gem of a word etched itself into a crevice in my brain and has remained lurking ever since. I’m not sure why. Nowadays, vicissitude seems like a turgid, bombastic way of saying “shit happens.” Vicissitude, often used in the plural, translates into the up and downs of one’s life; the fluctuations in circumstances and fortune that accompany one’s existence.

Over the past three to four months, I’ve come to acknowledge greatly the sinuous turns on life’s road, and with it, I’ve also come to appreciate stability. There are two types of changes. One type is rather dilatory, a charging army of snails.  The more threatening type in my opinion is that second type,  that sudden, swift burst of circumstance that comes without warning; the kind that no amount of providence or prudence could possibly halt; the kind that is embodied by a line in a Mat Kearney song, “I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.” Continue reading