I believe in looking up.
A few months ago, I was under considerable financial and personal stressors. At the end of a long day in the office, I saw a 34 year old man who had been having constipation and abdominal pain since he was 18 years old. This time, his exam seemed different, and I admitted him to the hospital and got a CT scan. The radiologist called me back and informed me that there was an obstructing mass in his colon with what appeared to be metastatic disease to his liver. This was a death sentence. Although I had already had a 12 hour day and was exhausted, I drove to the hospital to inform him.
He was laying in bed to my left with his wife on the other side, his 6 month old infant at my feet, and his 4 year old son playing off to my right. I gently tried to convey that although this could be an infection, I was concerned and we would have to do a further workup. No matter what I said, I knew the only thing he heard me say was CANCER. I allowed the room to be quiet as they absorbed the information.
His face was distant and unmistakable in its expression. He was thinking he was too young to die. I couldn’t look in those eyes for long.
I looked straight ahead and was confronted with his wife’s face which I can only describe as ashen. Her look too was unmistakable and she was thinking about raising the children alone without the love of her life. I could not look that way long without crying, and I did not want to be the first in the room to do so for fear of dispelling all hope.
My gaze traveled downward, and I saw the 6 month old smiling and discovering his hands for the first time. This infant would never know his father’s face. Tears continued to well in my eyes.
I turned to my right. Their 4 year old was having the time of his life bouncing a rubber ball off the cabinets. With constant reminders and pictures to view he may recall some of the qualities of his father, but they would be forever ephemeral.
No noise yet.
I looked up and was able to compose myself as I counted the ceiling tiles. Eventually, the discussion about the mass proceeded, and we started a plan of attack.
As I left the hospital, every fiber of my body was screaming with tension, but on the ride home, I felt it suddenly flow from my body. Although I realized my problems were not that important when compared to others, this was not my revelation as I already knew this.
Instead, I realized what I now believe. When confronted with an impossible situation, although it is necessary to look straight ahead, there is no solace in doing so. Looking down only magnifies consternation. Seeking escape by looking to the left or to the right only crystallizes it.
I believe that only by looking up are you able to find a way forward.
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