Other People’s Pain


I won’t be writing a blog this morning about the pressing issues of our time. When you’ve just spent three long days (and two endless nights) in the hospital, it’s not easy to get fired up about the world’s woes. Pain is a personal thing. We mortals cannot really appreciate the suffering that others are going through. We must experience it to feel it.

Why was I in the hospital? I suppose the short answer is dehydration caused by a bad reaction between a pain killer and a blood pressure medication. I started throwing up and couldn’t stop – even after there was nothing left to throw up. My kidneys, which don’t work perfectly at the best of times, had gone into decline.  If you care about such things, my Creatinine level was 1.8.

It could have been worse, of course. The kid in the bed next to me had a reading of 2.0. He is 21 years old, this kid, an Environmental Sciences student at Florida Southern University. He was center back on an intra-mural soccer team and they had played four games in two days. If you know anything about soccer, you know that’s almost like competing in a marathon.

After the games, he collapsed and started throwing up. As far as I could tell from shamelessly eavesdropping, he was so dehydrated that his muscles were affected. This kid will never be the same again. According to one conversation I overheard, he will always have to be careful about overdoing it as far as sports are concerned. And he has Basic Training to go through this sunmmer. He’s doing some kind of military service in addition to studying.

I consider myself lucky. My kidneys are working OK again, and my life is back to normal. What the future holds for my young ex-roommate is a lot more uncertrain.

As I tossed and turned in the torture chamber they call a hospital bed, tethered to a drip bag and to massage leggings pummeling my diabetic calves, I could hear the cries and moans of other patients, who were obviously in much more distress than I.

I could hear an old woman screaming for “somebody” to help her, and later a man crying over and over, “Help, help, help…” in a futile dirge of terror and pain.

I asked one of the nurses about the man and she dismissed it as a mental issue. “He’s naked,” she said, without elaboration, leaving my imagination to fill in the blanks.

Was he a mental patient? Or a drug addict? I am told that some people get addicted to pain medication and will often fake agony to get a fix.

Whatever it was, he was in obvious torment. Even if the horrors he was screaming about were imaginary, the pain was no less real to him (illustration above).

Through his screams for help, I thought I could hear giggling in the hall. Could that possibly be one of those gentle nurses who were so attentive to me, who were always at my beck and call to unhook me from my contraptions so I could use the rest room, who – and this is no small thing – laughed at my wisecracks?

Could she have become innured to the fictional horrors that men like this go through, so much so that she found it amusing?

It’s possible. We grow accustomed to horrors; they become commonplace over time.

Come to think of it, this blog is about one of the most pressing issues in our world today, after all. Isn’t it?

 Click for more on dehydration.