When I was being weaned off the ventilator in ICU I could spend short periods with visitors. During one of those visits,my sister Anne commented to my brother-in-law, that if anything serious happens to her, this is the hospital where she wants to be treated. She was right. I can’t say enough about how fortunate I was to be cared for by the best, at the best. The quick diagnosis of my rare (one in 50k) auto-immune disease, and the ability to stabilize and then turnaround my rapidly deteriorating condition are testament to the quality of healthcare in a top hospital in Boston/Longwood.
But it was so much more than that. There was a culture of shared humanity that permeated every level in the hospital. Everyone had a job to do and system to work within. But there was always a friendly and personable vibe. I could be myself. My family could be themselves. My friends could be themselves. For all of us, being ourselves often means acting like fools and having fun. Its just the way we roll. And no doubt, the more I laughed, the faster I got better.
I don’t know how anyone, patient or family, can get through ICU and acute care without some comic relief. Here, it was not only tolerated, but accepted.
- My sisters afraid to get too close to me in ICU. I’d pretend unconscious but reach out, grab and lock on to them to convince them to go along with my elaborate escape plans – “help, it’s got me!”.
- The kind social worker. She secured a room that happened to be vacant in the resident’s hotel so my son and sisters could crash and blow off steam with another fun family who were there for their ICU patient/family member. This started the “black Stenbergs” and “bad sistahs” meme and I was p.o.’d I could not partake.
- My first roommate post-ICU. She was an end-of-life patient whose family was in complete denial they loved her so much. Although her family wanted her to eat more and get up and move, she was determined to just eat her pudding and die. She was very vocal about it, howling incessantly till at one point my sister lost it and yelled: “just get her the effin pudding I can’t take it!”
- The lab technician. I’d hear the wheels of his cart at exactly 5:50 a.m. every morning and it was always the same, in a perfect Transylvanian accent: Goot morning Miss Vynne-Vynter, my name is Veector and I’m here to take your blahd.”
- The wild Haitian transport guy. I was always on the move, going from one treatment to another and for weeks it had to be by stretcher. Navigating Boston hospital buildings, corridors and elevators is tantamount to navigating its streets and this crazy man did it at top speed and took those curves as good as any of the great cox’ns took the Charles River turns. Since I had gone overnight from rowing 10 miles a day to being wired to a bed, I loved saying: hit it Mon! – and it was off to the races.
- The unbelievable ICU night shift. These two, a man and a woman, never sat down. Now, I was not seeing white lights and lovely visions. I saw two aliens that were committed to transporting me up to the mother ship to steal my organs. That delusion was remarkably real and repeated nightly. I fought them. I was horrible. I spent weeks looking for them to try to apologize for the horrendous things I know I said. I finally found her the night before I was discharged. I was crying and she was busting a gut laughing: “Honey, we see that all the time and the harder they fight the more Propofol they get!” It was like we’d known each other forever.
- Ralph (I think that was his name), the permanent patient. He had so many things wrong with him that he pretty much lived there on the acute floor. So his thing was to use his wheelchair to block everyone from getting around him while he chanted:”Play cards, want a card game, just one game of cards etc etc” I tried to avoid him but was humbled when I’d see the overworked nurses give up their precious breaks to play a game of cards with Ralph.
- My limitations: I was so screwed up after getting out of ICU that I was convinced I had neurological damage despite the doctor’s assuring me it was just ICU psychosis. I couldn’t walk, I could barely talk, I could remember maybe 2/3′s of my vocabulary and my motor skills were whacky. However, I had what I called The Hunger from the massive steroids. So I wanted to eat, refused to let anyone help me eat, would miss my mouth and stick forkfuls of food into the side of my head. My sisters and son did a great job not LOL at me but it was pretty funny.
- My hospital fashion: The thing I could least tolerate was having to stay in bed and alarmed to the bed. I tried so hard to figure out how to beat that alarm but I’d always set it off. Finally, I was free but I couldn’t walk and was damned if I’d go into a wheelchair. So I demanded that someone bring me up my black engineering boots. Instead, my sister brought me up a pair of my keds and I was furious, feeling like I had clown shoes on. So I got my boots and they were great because they acted like braces for my legs and after that I never returned to that miserable bed except late at night. So I walked the halls looking like I’d escaped from a Sons of Anarchy nightmare in my double johnny and my black engineering boots.
So that gives a picture of a day in the life and I can say for sure that every laugh was a healing laugh – endorphins, oxytocin..whatever. And that was before my son gave the green light for visitors. People must’ve enjoyed coming because there were so many people that I had to manage it on facebook, i.e. “visiting hours are open at 10 a.m. and you’ll find me in dialysis and extra chairs are setup your comfort and convenience – and don’t forget my extra large Starbucks iced mocha.”
Once I was home, I talked about how I missed the great atmosphere and incredible people with my sculling coach who came to visit me. He had gone through a serious health crisis himself. We both had similar experiences in that it was never about the sickness or the suffering. It was about the relationships and the human connection, sometimes fun and often funny. I’m forever grateful to the hospital and everyone there for creating an atmosphere where that could take place.
I woman told me the story of her anorexia. Her family couldn’t deal with it and she was eventually hospitalized. She didn’t understand the doctor’s alarm because the scale told her 100 lbs. He saw 80 lbs. and told her she would die. Although she had the evidence, what “she” saw on the scale, the doctor’s words were, thankfully, enough of a shock to get her to accept treatment and eat. She was unwilling to make the trade-off, her life, in spite of her proof that nothing was wrong. The doctor refused to collude.
Clients can get hostile when you refuse to collude. They’ll drag out the facts, proof and evidence of what’s happening to them and how it justifies their suffering in one or more personal or business domains. I’ve used that doctor’s approach, direct and hard-hitting. I lost clients. I’ve also colluded, by spending too much time listening, being empathetic and giving feedback, ideas and advice that weren’t followed. I didn’t want to be an enabler and I didn’t want failed projects. So I lost clients.
I learned. Resistance to change loves collusion and uses the proof and the evidence to get it. The only way you can help someone stop resisting is to help them see it for what is. It doesn’t work to whack them over the head with the dire consequences. These aren’t, after all, life and death situations although our clients in the grip of resistance clearly suffer.
What does work is going deep, getting to the bottom of it so to speak. What’s beneath everything that’s visible, understood and apparent is the hidden payoff. Its impossible to tell another person what that payoff is. You can only help another person realize it. That takes willingness, commitment, rigor, logic, dialog and trust. Timing is critical because resistance is a vampire. It will do anything to escape the light of reason in order to remain safe and secure in the dark.
The woman who had the strength to make it through anorexia struggled for decades with disappointment and frustration that showed up in her career, professional and business domain. It literally made her sick and frequently injured. She had the will and desire to go another way but her resistance had collected three decades of evidence that convinced her otherwise. I refused to collude.
And then there was a moment when she was able to be still long enough to ask herself: “If I’m not the one who starves and disappears, then who am I?” She answered: “I’m visible and powerful.” And there was a time in her life when she believed that visible and powerful was a dangerous way to be so she shut it down. There was no regret or grief in this realization, just relief because it all made perfect sense. She was never the effect, she was always the cause. It was the right choice at the time and she could choose differently now.
If you’re struggling with resistance to change or creativity you can do this on your own. Its a simple but powerful self-awareness tool. You have a conversation with yourself guided by these fill-in-the-blank questions:
- I’m the one who_____________
- If I’m not the one who_______________, then who am I? I’m the one who__________________
If you feel defeated because you can’t get or be what you want, refuse to have or be anything less.
If you’re stressed out and angry over loss or change, refuse to make others and the space around you stressed out and angry.
If you’re in a crisis and fearful, refuse to merge with it.
If you can’t handle it anymore, refuse to carry the burden and release it to someone, or something else.
If you’re burning with resentment, refuse to judge anyone or anything.
If you’re feeling snarky and cruel about someone, refuse to repeat what you’re thinking.
If you’re in the grip of addiction or compulsion, refuse to be unkind to yourself.
If you’re feeling isolated and unwanted, smile and greet everyone warmly.
The more you practice the art of refusal, the more you accept the responsibility for creating both the good and bad in your life in exactly the same way. At that point, what you’ll feel most is grateful.
Social media is re-connecting people who’ve been out of touch for ages. As we tell out our “stories” to long-lost friends, its easy to fall back into the point-of-view of a former self, who may be a lesser self.
You know it when it happens because you might feel a little low afterward and you don’t know why and you find yourself griping about the downside of social media.
I had this experience recently telling an old friend one of my family stories, adding a touch of cynicism and a drama flourish. It brought up some old resentments that drained my energy and blocked my creativity for the rest of the day.
But driving home that night I revisited my story as I looked up at the full moon over Boston. Instead of resentment, I felt love, empathy and gratitude about the same memory and toward the same family members in my story.
I realized it wasn’t just a change in perspective or a plot twist. It was a shift: a different memory, a different past, a different family member, a different me.
A greater self creates the past of a greater self. Why be anyone less?
My biggest issue with most of the media-psychology, coaching and pop new-agey methods, is that they’re reductionist. They aim for mass appeal with focus on the quick fix: point out what’s wrong, what its costing in some lack of fulfillment, offer advice to fix the problems and to attain the desired fulfillment.
But shallow methods and quick fixes aren’t transformational and the results don’t last. That’s because the quick-fix methods focus on the apparent trade-off for the client (or reader) and not on the hidden payoff.
Here’s a typical, if overly simplistic example:
The client hates his job but after years, or even decades of misery can’t break free. The trade-offs he makes are apparent to himself and to his adviser, or author:
- trade off the creativity for the steady paycheck
- trade off the adventurous for the familiar
- trade off the independence for the benefits
The analysis of the client’s problem and the advice he gets address the trade-offs he makes. With the global crisis, advice like this has reached a fevered pitch, and somehow feels the same for every problem or lack.
Just start, do it. This is your life. Set a goal. Take action. Be accountable.
So why is it that we’re drawn to and consume this obviousness? Because these methods don’t touch what we unconsciously hide and protect at all costs and that we can’t bear to examine: the beliefs that drive the choices that we make to get the payoffs to which we’re addicted.
An unconscious belief system operates like a psychic one-arm bandit leaving us penniless, but we can’t stop pulling the lever. In the grip of the bandit, we’re willing to accept the cost, an unfulfilled life, rather than examine our choice to identify with a lesser self.
Most of us are driven to some extent by old, unwanted beliefs that we chose at a crucial time in our development in response to a physically or emotionally traumatic event(s), real or perceived – it doesn’t matter. The longer they live in us the more exhausting it gets to keep pulling that lever to get the security and safety payoff that we think we still need. But we don’t need it anymore; that time is long past.
Self-awareness sheds a light on the beliefs and resistance that want more than anything to hide in the dark. Moving forward, and growing, doesn’t require re-living, remembering or analyzing the past. It does require uncovering, accepting, releasing and replacing the old belief machine that provides the old payola.
The requirement is the willingness to imagine: who would you be without the damn thing? The zorba kicks in. In my experience, its never a quick fix but the new, and often surprising and unexpected payoff makes it well worth the effort.