Framingham, Massachusetts, United States
|Photo courtesy of the author|
Darkness envelops me. A sliver of light peeks beneath the door from the world beyond the hospital room. Through the window hilled silhouettes stand silent before a veiled black backdrop. My mind wanders to the image of morning in the town just waking below. Amidst the blackness faint numbers emerge on the wall clock.
5:45 AM. The resident arrives to round. I peer at him from beneath the white rumpled blanket. Our quiet morning routine begins. He checks the drain. I watch. We speak little. Our eyes greet each other with knowing glances. It is too early for anything else.
Today I speak only to tell him that abdominal pain stole my sleep. He gazes with empathy at my unattractive situation. I figure the problem will ultimately resolve, but the pain is drawing me close to complete frustration. Promising to return later, he leaves.
Again, I am draped in darkness.
Left alone with my thoughts I let one leg dangle over the side of the bed. Prolonged bed rest makes me yearn for my more athletic days. The day before surgery I ran three miles and swam for an hour. Today I cannot walk three steps. Very humbling.
I allow my mind to wander. It combats boredom. Rumination muscles me through pain. Throughout the night my skin, wrapped tightly in the white blanket, chafed as I struggled to find a comfortable position. A futile effort. Lying in the dark I wonder if my once perfectly functioning body will ever return to its original state. The unexpected is the new normal. No radios. No books. Forget about watching television or eating meals. My mind can only tolerate the sound of certain voices. Intuition tells me these problems will vanish in time, but at the moment they loom large.
My thoughts and the silent darkness of early morning are abruptly punctuated by an overhead page. A code down the hall from my room. Instinctively my other leg dangles over the edge of the bed. With two legs hanging I am ready to run.
But . . .
Where am I going?
I am the patient now, not the doctor. After years of being the doctor, I am always in doctor mode, even as a patient.
Once cloaked in white, always cloaked in white.
In an instant my pathetic complaints crystallize into just that. Pathetic complaints. My pain is nothing compared to the horror that my neighbor endures.
I will recover.
My neighbor may not.
Despite being versed in medicine, I realize that I have lost sight of my own reality.
Stillness carries me for a long moment. Dawn breaks. Outside the window golden hills awaken.
Today will be a beautiful autumn day.
STACEY MASLOW, M.D., is a practicing pediatrician who advocates for education and improvement of the lives of others through work with immigrant health and medical philanthropy. She is also a photographer, writer, interior designer, and athlete.