How I resolved a conflict within me

A case of self-reflection and self -forgiveness

It is 11pm. I am on night duty at the Accident and Emergency unit in our referral hospital.  The reception area is packed with patients all waiting to be attended to.

“ Saidieni huyu mama!” (Help this woman!) … that was the clarion call.

I heard it as the woman was wheeled in right into the consultation room where I was seeing another patient.

Acknowledging the emergency in the situation, I stopped everything and I attended to her. She was about 65 years old and her major complaint was a severe headache … but … what had caused the commotion was the manner in which she was crying, screaming for help and prostrating herself on the stretcher.  As though she was not already drawing enough attention, her relatives were equally screaming and demanding that she be attended to immediately.

A doctor from the next room, came in to help and I left him to continue as I went back to deal with my initial patient. He listened to the history (by now, having gotten the attention they wanted, both the patient and her relatives were calm). He then, examined the patient, made a working diagnosis, prescribed some pain relievers, drew blood samples for investigations and sent them off to the X-ray department for a head CT-Scan.

A couple of hours later, I hear another commotion. This time it is the daughter of the woman. “You are a woman like me and therefore will understand” she says as she barges in through the curtains. “We have done all the investigations, now just admit my mother!” she demands as she waves the documents around.

I was in the middle of palpating the abdomen of another patient who lay exposed on the examination coach and just stopped myself from screaming at her to go out. Instead, I heard myself calmly say. “One patient at a time please. I will listen to what you have to say, but just now, allow me to finish with this patient first”

When she finally came into the room, I beckoned her to sit down.  “I have been here the whole night and I have a two month old baby at home who needs me”. She said, as tears welled into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

Just then, the attending male nurse, walked in.  “I have told you over and over again to wait outside for your turn. Your mother at least have been attended to and is just waiting to be admitted. There are many more who have not even been seen by the doctor. Please wait outside!” He sternly commanded.

 A man responding to a burning car
Capacity to respond appropriately is crucial

Having been on his feet for several hours and under the stress of trying to meet all the demands of the many patients under his watch, I certainly understood his reaction … and at least for that moment … I was temporarily relieved that he was there to demand some order and patience from the patients.

However, a day later, as I reflect on my night’s activities, I find myself wondering if I could have done better.

Supposing I had taken a moment and just listened to the woman and allowed her a moment to breath. “I hear you.” I should have said. “It must feel quite overwhelming with all the things you are going through just now … “

And maybe I could have added …

“ … I feel overwhelmed too … Let’s just breathe and take one step at a time. Your mother is now stable and will go to the ward as soon as the admission process is complete. Your baby will be well too … and I will also eventually see all the patients still waiting to be attended to …  All is well … ”

… mm-mm … This would have had a different result … I think …

After-all, as Oprah Winfrey reminds us all the time,  “All of us, irrespective from what walk of life we come from, need one thing … ‘to be heard’ …”

Taking time to listen to this woman would certainly have made a difference. Why didn’t I take time to do that ? …

… Well, I could justify my inaction by saying …  I was tired (yes it was in the middle of the night); … harassed (yes there were many other patients still waiting in line to be attended to); … and … upset (yes this woman had earlier budged into the private space of another patient) …

Choosing between two different fruits
In a calm environment, one can consciously choose to respond … and not just react

However … all this not withstanding …

I still had a choice ….

To enable me have the capacity to still make a conscious choice,  irrespective of how stressful the external environment is, I need to have a calm internal environment.

How do i do this?

… well … this is probably a topic for another day …

… for the time being, every time I find myself with someone in an overwhelming situation, I will pause and remind myself of Maya Angelou’s  quote … “We are more alike my friend, than we are unalike” … 

Only then, will i surrender… (peacefully so) …  to whatever emerges as an appropriate response.

For now, I will forgive myself …

… I did the best I could with what i knew then …  now that I know differently … I will act differently the next time i get the opportunity to.

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