Saturday, December 27, 2008

An Unexpected Conversation in a Waiting Room: The Hope Pyramid

I wrote this post earlier but wanted to repost it as a New Year's offering to all of you. To those of you who have been struggling; to those of you who have had some of your dreams come true; and to those of you who feel like you're still in the dark tunnel. This is a message of hope that was given to me unexpectedly, when I really needed it. I wish you a new year filled with health and peace.

The second pain management clinic I went to, in June 2000, in one of the major Boston, Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals, was overcrowded and dingy. The tired olive walls of the waiting area made the orange plastic chairs that circled the room all the more jarring. The thick haze of pain coming from the crowd of patients made it hard to breathe. Everywhere I tried to rest my eyes I saw clenched jaws and jiggling feet and silent tears. My chronic pain was at a high point, and I was at a low point in my search for relief. I stopped my own jiggling and clenching for a moment and noticed that the woman sitting next to me seemed unusually serene. Her hands were resting quietly in her lap and her eyes were focused on some invisible point beyond the agitation around her.

To both our surprise, I turned to her and said, “You seem to have a calmness that doesn’t come from overmedication. How do you do it?” To my surprise, she answered, “I always have hope.” She chuckled and added, “I also have chronic back pain and quite possibly a brain tumor.” I asked her to tell me where she finds her hope. I really wanted to know because I had yet again been disappointed by all the treatment options I could fathom to address my mysterious chronic pain condition and was dipping into the muck at the bottom of the depression barrel.

She said that there is always something to be hopeful about, no matter what condition you’re in. When you have health, you can be hopeful about having any of your dreams come true. Once your body fails you, you can rest your hope in your emotions. You can hope that you will still feel love and compassion for others, and for yourself. If your emotions become emptied, you still have your spirit, and you can hope to connect to something greater than yourself, something that has a light to shine on your shadows. And when the spirit is gone, then you have already become something else, and who knows what hopes await you there.

We had this conversation over seven years ago. I never knew what happened to that woman in the waiting room, but I can still hear the assurance in her voice. I still have ups and downs with my pain condition, but I have learned that there is always something to be hopeful about -- you just have to keep looking.


fishbones said...

Wow. Wish I'd read this several yrs ago while being told I have MS! I tend to swing wildly between acceptance and hope one day, to anger and frustration the next. I too often view my whole world as being totally physical in nature. How nice it would be to truly experience/appreciate the other aspects of our lives that make us whole!

Barb Newhart said...

Jim Broatch with RSDSA sent out an e-mail today about your blog, and I'm so glad I caught this part. You have put so eloquently what has helped to get me through these last 2 years, although at times I had much less than I wanted. I'm looking forward to following your work.

Anonymous said...

My partner of 30 years passed on your blog to me. I recently quit using the anti-depressant my doctor had added to my regime because I seemed to be angry all the time and often couldn't sleep at night. The depression, it seems, is over. Now I cry when I am moved, which seems to be often. I cried when I read your comments about the hell of watching your partner disappear into pain. I was afraid for two years to talk about or confront my partner with any of the emotions we were both feeling. Thank you for your encouragement.