Curiosity, Dialogue, and Knowledge
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying…
Realizations don’t come cheap for me.
I bounced around a lot before I really found my niche in life, so what I’m going to write about is done with the self-knowledge that I don’t learn any differently than most of the patients that I work with- that is, I learn the hard way.
I was working with a patient the other day who was coming out of the fog of a brain infection. Traditional therapy models and plans had long been thrown out the window due to this patient’s paranoia and confusion. My role, like it or not, was to be a counselor. I had to listen more than I spoke. I had to gently guide them towards coherent thoughts without pushing too hard with annoying questions (e.g.- How old are you? Where are we now? Why are you here? What is today? When was our last big holiday? etc. etc.). This wasn’t what any of the books I’d read in school had taught me about being a good speech pathologist.
Luckily for the patient and myself, her infection started clearing, and I was able to see one of the most wonderful things there is in life. I saw her change. She told me that she realized she had been confused, that she didn’t know why any of this had happened to her, but that she was going to do things differently when she left the hospital. “I know I’ve had all these plans for so long, all these projects left undone, but I never did ’em. That’s crap,” she said. She went on to talk about the importance of personal change. She saw what most of us ignore- we aren’t guaranteed anything, we can go from hero to zero in a few moments. Why then do we delay?
She went on to tell me her opinions on the human struggle, her thoughts pouring out with the aid of neuro-stimulants. She couldn’t forget all that she’d been through, she said. This optimistic spirit was also being channeled by her husband, who declared he would no longer put off losing weight. I felt, for a moment, like I was at an old-fashioned, church tent revival. This emotional catharsis, tears and all, is fragile for those of us that haven’t bought it with our own painful experiences. It’s realized too cheaply. I have no doubt that my patient will change, will do many of those projects that were left undone, will have a positive effect on others, and will never be the same.
I am, however, still left with many questions: Will the husband lose the weight and control his diabetes better? For that matter, will I actually implement any of the lessons learned from this experience? Will I ever write that novel? Can great personal change happen without great personal hardships? Is there any hope that wisdom can come from an accumulation of observations? If so, how long do I have to accumulate before I take action? Can you really change by reading about someone else’s personal challenges? What is the neurological basis for change? Where does will power come from and what makes it so ephemeral?
The advice I give my patients, seems trite, and true at the same time. Take it one day at a time.
Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.
Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.
(The epigraph at the top is an excerpt from Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to make much of Time”)