Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Learning curve

It's my last semester in grad school. I'm interning at a hospital; one of the last of the major steps on my path to becoming a speech pathologist. Hardly three weeks in and I feel as though the onslaught of daily interaction with "real life" has taught me far more about myself than all my days in the classroom strung together. I was expecting to be so busy the days would pass in a blur. I was expecting to be challenged and to have my knowledge tested at every turn. I was even expecting to be overwhelmed by all the newness and the high expectations I had for this experience and for myself.

What I was not expecting was to feel so acutely the facts of the suffering around me; the sickness and despondency. I was not expecting the sadness of either the reluctant acceptance or bitter denial of a life forever changed by a stroke, heart attack, accident, fall, cancer, near-drowning, pneumonia, fire. . . nor the slow and painless slipping into dementia, the pains of which are so keenly felt not by the sufferer, but rather those who love him or her.

It's overwhelming at times to be surrounded by so many sick humans and bad luck and shortsighted hope. I wasn't expecting to feel that way, and I think that- more than anything else in my life- has taught me about the kind of person I am constantly becoming.

It's up to me to either hold fast to that empathy or let it fizzle away into the ether of callousness and immunity. One must have to employ some kind of shield against the constant despair, right? It's just amazing the lives that some people suffer through, and the open ears and minds of those who take the time to listen to their confusion and fear. A dear friend of mine is on her way to getting her master's degree in social work. She sees people at her internship who have no place to live, are suffering from schizophrenia and diabetes and depression and addiction, and who have no family to go home to; no doctor to ask them about their ailments.

I know you're not supposed to "take work home" with you, whatever that means, but I thus far have failed brutally in that department. How can you shake off the faces and the voices and the stories of all those hordes of people who need help and hope and kind words? There is a definite balance to be struck, and I'm in the nascent phases of that learning curve.

You know, despite the intensity of it all, I am truly loving the experience so far. There is so much to learn and every new patient affords me the opportunity to be a little more real, a little better at my job, a little more confident and competent.

I am still very much an optimist and see the rays of light all around me in the rehab center and hospital. The therapeutic staff who work tirelessly to get all the patients to as functional of a level as possible. The families who love and support and give up sleep and time and paychecks to care for their loved ones. The caregiver who isn't being paid but stays bedside all the time anyways because the family has all but abandoned their demented and dying mother. The strides and leaps and bounds of improvement that so many make from wheelchair to walking. The people who learn how to talk and to eat after so much was so inexplicably and suddenly stolen from them.

A wild world. I'm a neophyte so pardon me if I seem melodramatic. I know there are hundred upon thousands of people who work in the health care industry, and in far less favorable settings. And I have to take off my metaphorical hat to all of them, in honor of their thick skins, and soft hearts, and magnificent brains. What a world. My training ground for learning the true meanings of loss, and grief, and acceptance.

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