Proud members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. We strongly believe in personal freedom, responsibility, and gun rights. We also believe in the 90/10 theory. That means that 10% of the people have 90% of the talent. Unfortunately, we are not in the 10% category. However, the rest of us are still better than 90% of the politicians.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interesting People found at Humans of New York

Some people have the most amazing stories tucked away inside. 

“We fled Germany on November 9th, 1938. It was called the Crystal Night, because there were demonstrations against Jews all over Germany, and many windows were being broken. We were living on the outskirts of Hanover. When my father came home from work that night, he told us that the synagogue was on fire, and that firemen were standing in a ring around it to prevent the flames from spreading to other buildings. He said: ‘We’re getting out of here.’”
“We fled to the Philippines, which was under American occupation at the time. But it wasn’t long before the Japanese took over the islands. We were living in Manila, and when the Japanese occupied the city, they began to teach us to read and write Japanese. When the Americans came to retake the city, they invaded from the north, and the Japanese blew up the bridges and barricaded themselves in the southern part of the city where we lived. Shells were falling all around us, because the Japanese had stationed a gun encampment across from our house. One morning, we decided to make a run for the hospital, so that we could put ourselves under the protection of the Red Cross. Our neighbors were running in front of us, pushing their belongings on a pushcart, when they stepped on a land mine and the whole family was killed. We kept running, but when we got to the main street, there was a checkpoint and we weren’t allowed to cross. So we hid beneath a house, and soon we were discovered by Japanese soldiers. They lined us all up against the wall to be executed. We begged and begged and begged for our lives. They finally allowed my mother and the children to step aside, but they told my father to stay. My mother dropped to her knees and asked the Japanese commander to imagine it was his family. And he finally let all of us go.”

In my profession we just treat, we try very hard not to judge.  I learned a lesson about that from a couple of patients and their families when I was new on the job.

Once upon a time, many moons ago, I had two patients in ICU at the same time.  One was a lovely woman in her 50's, a teacher, with a very concerned family.  She was dying of heart failure.  Slowly, but it was happening.  She was in and out of the hospital, but everything that could be done had been done and there was really nothing left but to wait it out.

The other patient was a homeless man (call him Frank) who had been scooped up off the street by EMS after being found passed out on a corner.  To put it bluntly, he stank.  His socks had been on his feet for so long they had to be scraped off, parts of them had melted away, and parts had melted into his skin. His toenails were way too long and hard and yellow with fungus.  He had lice and rashes and other nasty things and was also dying of liver failure.

We managed to find a relative, his aunt, who came to see him once.  She told me his story and I was ashamed.  Because in my  youthful arrogance I had placed less value on him as a human being due to his circumstance.  I always thought I was compassionate, but I was also judgmental. Though I took care of Frank to the best of my ability, I also blamed him for his circumstance. To be fair, I was young and had never realized that not everyone has the opportunities I had had.  I just thought that no matter what it is you want to do or be, if you worked really hard for it you could get there. That's the way my parents raised me.

Then Frank's aunt told me how he was raised by two alcoholic parents who put whiskey in his bottles to keep him quiet.  That he himself was alcoholic by the time he started kindergarten, partially because lots more of the money in their household went for booze than food.

Frank was the kid who always got pushed to the back.  He was dirty, he smelled bad, wore mismatched, unwashed, uncared for clothing, didn't socialize well, and didn't show up often.  By the time he was 12 he'd stopped showing up at all. From that age he was mainly on the streets.

People say that no matter your start once you're an adult it's your choices that make your life, but Frank never knew he had any choices.  He completely fell through the cracks in the social safety net without ever being offered a glimpse of a different life.  He never saw the possibilities out there.

On the other hand, my teacher patient had a good education, a loving family, and good insurance.  She saw doctors regularly for her diabetes, but didn't follow their advice and it began to affect her heart.  She continued to see doctors and ignore their advice about her blood pressure and fluid intake.  She kept getting sicker, but always thought just a little cola was ok and maybe some of that cake with it.  Except it was never really just a little.  She didn't like checking her blood glucose, the needles hurt and it was time consuming keeping up with it. She forgot to take her blood pressure meds regularly.  But she always meant to do better!

She died in hospital surrounded by a caring family and many friends at the age of 55.

Frank died in the room next to hers on the same day.  Alone. He was 30.

It's not that one is more or less deserving of compassion and care, but that sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are all humans.  What if she had been his teacher and managed to intervene?  As a teacher she probably did to some extent in many lives. Her family and friends said she was that kind of teacher, the one who would notice and care.  What if Frank had had that teacher in kindergarten?

That's one of the reasons I so enjoy Humans of New York .  Simply because they find those stories and and convince people to share them.  Who would suspect this man's history when just passing him on the street? These posts at HNY help to remind us that beneath the surface everyone has a story.  It may not be so dramatic, historical or frightening, but everyone is affected by their history.  And while it may not be apparent to anyone else, it is their story and will in some way direct the rest of their life.

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