I saw too much pain last week.
I did seven trips with the ambulance, and two of them stand out in my mind for the pain they involved. One of these ambulance calls was for a motor vehicle crash where two people were hurt. Our patient was a twenty year-old woman with the worst broken arm I have ever seen. It was an angulated fracture of the forearm; her arm was bent about forty degrees where it should have been straight. Every effort to get that splinted made her cry out. Every little movement, every bump in the road, all the way to the trauma center a half hour away, made her cry out. (Of course, this made me think of the eighteen year-old with the broken back who we took care of two weeks ago.)
Our next call was for a man in his forties who has stage-IV lung cancer, and was having trouble breathing. It appeared that he had come down with pneumonia, and he was really working to breath, while his wife looked on, unable to do much for him.
The next day, I was with an elderly relative who needed help getting to a medical appointment. She has endured more pain for a longer time than anyone I have known, first (and still) from advanced arthritis, then from four knee surgeries, then a fractured vertebra, and now from a badly herniated disk. She had to lie in the MRI for twenty minutes, lying on that herniated disk … She thinks she is weak, but I have never known anyone to endure so much, and to even still have a sense of humor. But I think she is nearing her breaking point.
And today, I am corresponding with a member of my online support group for esophageal cancer. While this is typically thought of as a cancer of old or middle-aged men, this particular patient is a twenty-six year-old woman. She was stage-IV at diagnosis, a year or two ago. She tore my heart out then. Now, her doctors have told her there is nothing more they can do, and she will soon die. She writes, “A few weeks ago doctorrs found fluid around my heart and lungs and told me there was nothing else they could do for me. So I’m 26 and at home dying. I want to keep fighting because I still feel like I can. But no doctorrs agree with me. So what do I do now?”
What can I say, what can I do?
I am encountering other kinds of pain, as well. Twice this week, I have encountered picket lines set up by striking Verizon employees. They tell me that Verizon is demanding give-backs from the union that will reduce each employee’s income by more than $20,000 a year. Verizon demands that the company no longer contribute to pensions, that employees pay for their health insurance, less insurance than they now receive, and actual pay cuts as well. Although Verizon made a profit of $22 billion last year, they insist that these give-backs are needed for them to remain competitive. The most highly paid of these employees made less than $70,000 last year, and many make far less. These give-backs will cost them at least a third of their income, their homes, their health, their retirements – probably everything they have worked to build for their loved ones. This is another kind of pain.
This blog is about love.
Greed and selfishness are not about love. Inflicting needless pain on others, especially those with less power, is not about love. There is already far too much pain in the world without deliberate cruelty.
Just as I have taken responsibility for demonstrating how love makes everything different and better, it is time for me to demonstrate how love’s many opposites poison us and destroys what we think we are building. So, while I continue to draw attention to love at work in the world, I will, from time to time, point to where more love is needed – because, just as love builds us up, edifies us, not loving one another tears down and destroys. And time is short – for all of us and all of us together, because we are destroying our community.
(By the way, I am traveling again this week, so I, unfortunately, I may be a bit behind in my blogging. As I post this, I am in Chapel Hill, NC.)