December 29, was an amazing, exhausting 45 hour day. In the aftermath I had the opportunity first to take stock of everything that had happened, of how the corporations, companies, people and professionals and the resources of a nation come together to save one life. After the euphoria had dimmed the fatigue set in.
The holiday season is stressful for all of us, this year for me, especially so. My physical resilience had already been stressed by an unexpected encounter with influenza (H1:N1). When I got the news a few days before Christmas that I had the Spanish flu, I actually had to chuckle. Imagine an expert on pandemic preparedness that I had H5:N1.
As with any influenza, the body aches and fever ensued. Laryngitis made it difficult to dictate my daily magazine column. Patients would chuckle in the emergency department and then nervously ask me if I was contagious. I assured them that because of Tamiflu and the fact that I was beyond the infectious period, they had nothing to worry about.
Christmas preparations had been hectic, but Christmas Day had been a joy. The day after Christmas, my wife and children went to my in-laws home for a visit while I stayed behind, both to work and to insure that I did not inadvertently carry an illness to my already sick father in-law. This is the first time since we married that my wife and I did not spend the entire holiday season together and I found myself sipping from my canteens of relationship and emotional resilience.
The laryngitis had also excluded me from four religious concerts for which I had prepared diligently. Although I had enjoyed the beauty of the religious services, there was a twinge of disappointment in not lending my voice in praise and expression of my spiritual beliefs.
When “Glen” arrived in the emergency room all focus shifted to him. As we worked first to stabilize him, then to find a place that could care for him and finally a way to get him to that place I transitioned from drawing on resilience for my personal needs to drawing on resilience to complete the mission. Taking “Glen’s” wife on the transport meant that my own emotional resilience and even spiritual resilience would be sustaining not only myself, but “Glen” and her as well.
Without realizing it, I was now drinking deeply, gulping, from my canteens.
Exhaustion taxed my physical resilience as I crossed first 24 then 36 hours awake and on duty. My relationship resilience was drained by separation from family and my inability to meet them at the airport as they returned home while I was on Coast Guard Rescue Flight 2114. Watching this couple hold hands for what may have been “Glen’s” last day sapped my emotional resilience. My only remaining reserve was my spiritual resilience. This canteen was constantly refilled by the knowledge that it was only true Providence that “Glen” had come to the emergency department at all. That it was only through the hand of Providence that there was a physical sign of his illness that could not be explained by any other possibility. When a 49 year-old man comes to the emergency department with chest pain, the first thought is heart attack and the first treatment is one that would have killed “Glen”, but he had one physical sign, one thing, that could not be explained by heart attack and in fact could only be explained by the condition that he had. Yet when his CT scan was reviewed, he should not have had that sign. It was the knowledge of this Providence and the renewal of emotional resilience drawn from the waves of people who surged to save “Glen’s” life that made it possible for me to complete the mission.
I had been awake for 36 straight hours by the time I arrived home. My family was all there, having arrived back earlier in the day. They had sketchy information on where I had been and I was more interested in hearing about their trip than talking about mine.
My daughter Tiffany asked, “How do you do it? How do you work for 36 hours straight like that?” I told her that you pay a price. You trade a small piece of your life and health for a much bigger piece of theirs.
After a four hour nap, I awoke to find that the medical students, who had no way of knowing of what had transpired, had left me a present.
In the gift bag I found a snow globe, a miniature recreation of the place where they had volunteered their time. There was also a pin, one like those that each of them had worn as a volunteer and a small leather bookmark embossed with the mission of the Give Kids the World volunteers.
One hundred years from now,
It will not matter what kind of car I drive,
What kind of house I live in,
How much I have in my bank account,
Nor what my clothes look like.
But the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of one child.”
The card enclosed read:
You are a real sunshine maker!
Thanks so much for your hospitality and kindness! Gathering at your lovely home was a great way to start our unity project. We look forward to seeing you in D.C.
Best wishes, Sally Murad & SOMA”
Sally and her leadership team had asked if I would be willing to address them in April, 2007 in Washington, D.C. It was at the moment that I read the card and opened the snow globe that I knew what story I would tell.
I would tell them the story of a group of young medical students who had given up their Christmas and inspired an old doctor.
I would tell them the story of “Glen”, a 49 year old man whose birthday present to himself was the manifestation of an almost absolutely fatal condition and how a nation had come together to save his life.
I would tell them the story of being tired, of trading a small piece of your life and health for a bigger piece given to a stranger.
I would tell them the story of being close to drawing the last drop of resilience and how a card, a bookmark, a pin, and a snow globe refilled my 40,000 gallons of resilience.
As 2006 draws to a close and we all prepare to celebrate the renewal that 2007 represents,
I take stock in the things that I have (my physical resilience),
the people whom I share my life (my relationship resilience),
the joys, sorrows, triumphs and dreams of my life (my emotional resilience)
and the Providence that guides me (my spiritual resilience).
Happy New Year!