If you follow our posting regularly, you will have noticed the lack of new content this past month. As much as we love writing this blog, however, we had to take a pause for some health issues that arose. To be precise, my health issues.
It started with a burning stomach pain, and soon I found myself in the local hospital doing 10 hours’ worth of tests. The verdict: appendicitis. There was only one problem though; there was no surgeon at the local hospital.
So at 3 a.m. we loaded into the car to make the trip to São Paulo. Upon arrival at the emergency entrance, we were subjected the bureaucracy of the Brazilian public health system. After 10 more hours of waiting and tests, the new results proved inconclusive. I was sent home on supervisory status.
Two days later the pain returned, stronger than ever, and we returned to the emergency room. I was interned 6 hours after admittance, and was told I was first in line for surgery. And so we waited. And waited. Another 12 hours passed. Completely desperate and worried half to death, we were finally informed that I would be taken up to surgery.
And so they pumped me with anesthesia and inserted a camera in my belly. Turns out, it had been appendicitis the whole time. The recovery was relatively fast, and I was released 24 hours after my surgery. My prescription was bedrest, soup and Advil.
The whole process took a full week, and amongst all the stress, sleeplessness, fasting, pain and desperation we were forced to face a very valuable lesson in humility and patience.
The hospital in São Paulo was undergoing renovations at the time, so everything was hectic. There were times where we waited 4 hours without any news or updates as to what to expect next. The emergency room was chock full of people with bandages, people throwing up, people in wheelchairs and people moaning in pain.
When I was finally interned, I was given a cot in the hallway alongside 40 other patients since all the rooms were being redone. Some of them had been there for several days already and would stay for several more before being operated since their condition was not grave enough to be deemed life-threatening.
All this time, I was in desperate pain. I was exhausted. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything. I was at the end of my rope. My initial state of mind was outrage at the fact that I wasn’t being given more attention, that my condition wasn’t bad enough to allow me to be operated right away.
Why didn’t the doctor come to check on me more often? Why wasn’t he trying harder to get me into surgery? Didn’t he realize how much pain I was experiencing, that my condition could be life-threatening?
Emergency after emergency kept getting called in and passing in front of me in the OR; an old man who swallowed two needles, a young boy who had been hit by a car and was bleeding out inside from punctured organs, a man shot three times.
During the 12 hours I waited for my turn in surgery, my neighbors in the hallway came and want. I saw a very sick looking old man speaking nonsense who didn’t recognize his own daughter when she came to visit. I saw a girl with her face completely bandaged from burns that would leave her mutilated for life, and saw her best friend sobbing when she saw her for the first time.
I saw many things, and the more I saw, the more humble I became.
When we’re in pain or suffering, it’s easy to put ourselves at the center of the universe. It becomes easy to disconsider those around us and demand that we be treated first. After all, it is a very basic instinct to flee from pain, to make it want to stop.
In times of desperation, however, we need to maintain perspective. We need to be able to humble ourselves and realize the true severity of our condition. Often we have a way of exaggerating reality to make a point, either to ourselves or to others.
The truth is, that boy who was hit by a car deserved to go to the front of the line. He must always go to the front. As difficult as it is to spend 12 hours in uncertainty waiting for surgery, I had to face the fact that I wasn’t dying.
In fact, I was lucky. My surgery would be simple and straightforward, my recovery fast and without complications. In a month I would be fully functional again.
I couldn’t say that for the other people in that hospital. The girl with the burned face would have to spend thousands to reconstruct her appearance. The old man might never recognize his daughter again. The young boy might not even survive the surgery, and if he did the recovery process would be long and painful.
I was lucky enough to leave that hospital with only three small incisions, but what about the physical and psychological damage of the rest of the people I left behind? I didn’t know their stories, I didn’t know their symptoms or why they were in the emergency room that night. And probably I will never know.
We can never say for certain that our suffering is greater than someone else’s. We can never claim that we are going through something worse. Who are we to make such a comparison?
Instead, we must take an approach of compassion, humility, patience and understanding. It’s not a competition as to who is worse-off, but rather, should be an opportunity to offer mutual emotional support and help to build each other up in a time of suffering.
I’m grateful that I made it through relatively unscathed, and even though the experience was not easy. I wish I could go back and take the situation with more grace, but I suppose we are given challenges so that we can grow, and in this case I needed a lesson in humility and patience. I hope you all can take the story of my experience with you the next time you find yourself in a desperate situation. You’re not alone.