Meaningful Interaction: A Study in Comfort
every family there are different traditions and approaches to comfort. Even in the work environment, we have those we look to for solace, humor, camaraderie. In an odd sense, they become a second family and a cornerstone in our day. After a brutal day, they are the ones that help pull us through, that make us smile and remember why we do what we do.
The following contains real life tasteless jokes told by a healthcare professional. Proceed with caution.
In every family there are different traditions and approaches to comfort.
I, in particular, am not a huggie (huggy?)/touchy feely person. Hugs do not comfort...they distress.
Yet I am surrounded by normal folks for which a physical hug is important and it is there that I find myself wrapped in philosophical debates about approach, deployment and fulfillment of said physical comfort. Do I take a running start? If I stand with my arms out away from my sides, am I shrugging, challenging someone to a fight to the death or offering a hug? Will this be recognized? What is the sound of one hand clapping?
But physical is just one approach. There are many styles of hugs in this world. For example, my family (which I'm sure you have figured out is not the physical type) hugs with food. After a bad day, you are gifted with pot roast, garlic mashed potatoes and Sweet Apple Betty. Flat tire? :: poof :: meatloaf. Graduated from college? Let there be chocolate chip cookies.
And heaven help you if you don't have seconds. (What? What's wrong with it? Too salty? Not enough pepper? It might be a bit dry. Have some gravy. You know what? I'll make you something else.)
Thunder, meet thighs. Thighs, meet thunder.
Another style, rarely recognized as such but prevalent nonetheless, is the verbal hug. Powerful when properly executed, skin-scratchingly awkward when not, it requires a light touch, a special approach and a keen mind.
My moxie has been off lately. Not overly so, but just enough like a brick that's just slightly out of alignment or a cake that's not quite level--noticeable only to those truly looking and more importantly seeing. And for the most part, no one ever sees, too distracted by what they wish to see--comforted by the grinning mask smoothly presented which affords the turning of a blind eye.
After all, who ever wonders at a smile?
Even when the smile is slight, no one questions. Not when pained, tight, drawn, and fading. No one questions.
Until it's gone.
But the smile, under the strain of my own family health issues, after a night of attempted suicides, craniotomy via bullet holes, and assaults by gravity, somehow remained carefully painted in place until one last tragic moment of a young woman in PEA brought down by a penetrating wound made it slip.
Although formidable, even boulders get worn pebble smooth by the eroding tumble of the sea.
So it was I returned to my post in the OR, somehow drifting through my mental fog and into the lounge to roost over my own maudlin musings.
Is there anything so strangely poetic as a heart in PEA? An electrical system desperately calling orders to a legion of fallen soldiers that will never answer--a haunting, desperate echo, "Don't give up, don't give up, don't give up."
The muted thump of a Styrofoam cup at my elbow and a whisper of what could only be coffee house brew drew my attention away from the middle distance.
Dr. Merrick, trauma surgeon and fellow night owl.
He leaned on the edge of the table and regarded me over the wired rim of his glasses.
I have been on the receiving end of that stare for the past several years. It is always sharp, focused and analytical when hewn under the pressure of trauma. I have seen that gaze turned with full force on a patient, on a stubborn family scrapping for non-existent answers, but never on me. Only the weighted feeling of defeat kept me from squirming even as I offered a smile in greeting.
He shook his head, cleared his throat, and guided the coffee cup nearer to me with a gentle sweep of his hand.
There are times when I fall victim to my own brain, when I cannot be kept from crawling back into the perceived safety of my own thoughts, no matter how ridiculous, no matter how self destructive. This was one of those times--eyes down to the coffee, watching the particulate swirl of Coffee Mate glazing the surface.
"What do you call a man with no arms, no legs floating in a pool?"
I looked up at him, brow furrowed sharply in confusion. What in the h--
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me." The stare never wavered. Waiting. Expectant.
"I....I don't know. Should I know this?" He offered a light shrug and tapped the table top rhythmically with his blunt, long fingers.
"Bob." My brain stuttered in its ramblings for a moment as the joke settled.
"What do you call a man with no arms, no legs hanging on the wall?"
"Art." I snorted in spite of myself.
"What do you call a man with no arms, no legs that got stuck on a roller coaster?" At this point my brain hushed, listening, rapt. I shook my head.
"Ralph." He climbed to his feet, pushed in the plastic chair and began to fasten the buttons of his shift rumpled lab coat. "What do you call a guy with no arms, no legs who is strong enough to lift a truck?" This time my thoughts were focused and blurting out random names. But not fast enough. One lightly bushy eyebrow wavered above the glasses at my pondering, flagging his amusement and encouragement.
"Jack." A traitorous smile broke out over my face. He gestured to the coffee with a nudge of his chin. With a grateful nod in return, my hand found its way around the warmed cup and I sipped. Too sweet. Too much "creamer". But somehow still perfect.
"What is the last thing on a bug's mind when it hits the windshield?"
"No clue, sir."
I couldn't help it. I laughed. Hard.
I laughed until oxygen became an afterthought. So great was the bubble of stress as it burst, so stifling that I didn't realize until this moment that for the whole shift, I had scarcely been breathing.
As I put myself back together and took another sip of coffee, I felt a hand on my shoulder for the barest of moments.
"There you are," nearly murmured, soothing and gentle on an exhale of baritone.
In a squeal of trauma pager, both his and mine, he was gone, leaving behind the lilt of his aftershave, a light chuckle, and the warmed, reinforced squeeze around my myocardium.
It takes skill to sew. It takes talent, a heaping helping of knowledge and a bit of pixie dust to practice medicine. But it takes time, heart, and the ability to see, to observe, to heal.
Have you hugged anyone lately?