Sunday, August 01, 2010

A World of Indifference

"Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?"

End of the World (1962) by Skeeter Davis

On my way to attend and to leave my clinical postings behind daily, I walk past the Melaka General Hospital morgue. It was business-as-usual for me this last Friday. It wasn't for a family of three which was so recently four.

A woman in her mid-thirties was crying quietly into the palms of her hands. To her left was a girl more than halfway to the age of twelve; crying in concert and clinging hard to her mother, but found that the grownup had no solace to give her because there was no solace to be had by anyone. To the woman's right was a skinny, bespectacled boy - a little older, but still far, far too young. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy, staring blearily into the strange fever dream of an uncertain future he and his family are barrelling dizzyingly into. I want to know what he was thinking, if he wasn't merely feeling.

Doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel were drifting in and out the scene of human wreckage, selectively oblivious and professionally insulated by nonchalance. A pair of house officers walked right in front of the grieving family; one laughing loudly at the joke of the other. It must have been the funniest joke ever told, and I wish I heard it.

I may never understand the immensity of the family's tragedy, but something made me stop to stand a little distance behind them and watch for half a minute, trying to feel their loss and feeling at a loss for what to try - or if I should try to do anything at all. Am I a bad person for walking away eventually? These are people I do not know and I know I shouldn't care, but I did. I did care. It's Sunday, two days post-mortem, and they are still inhabiting my head. Was it her husband? Was it their father? What lives would they live now after this upheaval? How will she get by with her two kids after death did do them apart?

How can someone who means the world to these people, mean so little to the world?

I put this in writing because I need to get this out of my mind and into something a little less changeable and a little more concrete. I wrote this to say, "I noticed. I felt your pain. The world ended for a moment for me too."

k0k s3n w4i


Phoebs said...

i hope my grandma gets better :( i go to the hospital twice a week but i don't think i actually notice how much of a sad place hospitals are until now

Michelle Chin said...

Phoebs: Hospitals are not entirely sad. I see hospital as a place reflecting life. There are births, sickness, second chances, miracles and the inevitable death.

My words do not do justice to it but yeah...

McGarmott said...

You know, if our Malaysian screenwriters had that kind of empathetic quality of yours, our movies would've been quite a lot better. For that is a rather necessary ingredient in the art and craft of storytelling - to be able to observe, find something interesting/insightful about those observations, and digest the emotion ...

(I realise the POV of this response is terribly narrow.)

Zzzyun said...

sometimes, ppl don't see what they dont want to feel. and ppl in the health profession can actually feel burnt out from being overly empthathetic...

ps: seeing pts in extreme pain or gross situations (eg eye surgery with a conscious pt!) gives me vasovagal episodes.. :(

Shahrysham Kamran said...

"How can someone who means the world to these people, mean so little to the world?"

you got me thinking.

Yin Mun~Moon said...

This blog definately means something, i could feel your pain too~

May Lee said...

if they ever read this, i'm sure it would mean the world to them. grief can make you feel like you're swept in a rushing river.. your sincere empathy will be akin to a floating log - unexpected but very much appreciated.

Glo-w~* said...

Ben always tells me that i have too much empathy. i dont see a problem in that. it's good to feel pain n loss sometimes. part of life. we learn fromit and treasure things more. btw, i like the hospital too^^

k0k s3n w4i said...

Phoebs: most people just find hospitals scary. i find it mostly a bore. perspectives...

Michelle Chin: miracles aren't as common as daytime soaps make them out to be. and i happen to think that childbirth is highly icky - to the extent that i don't plan to spawn.

McGarmott: i'm sure that our screenwriters can be empathetic if they want to. i just think that they are so caught up in making a movie that they forgot they should be telling a story.

Zzzyun: it's one thing to be able to know how others feel. it's quite another to feel what others feel. i have a very detached mind when it comes to stuff like surgeries.

Shahrysham Kamran: always a thing i am glad to do ;)

Yin Mun~Moon: oh, not my pain. you're feeling the echo of an echo, really.

May Lee: my empathy is driftwood. what a quaint analogy, haha. i'm not sure if this is entirely accurate. when i grieve, attention and empathy is the last things i need. i usually need to be alone with my mind for awhile.

Glo-w~*: you like hospitals? yikes. you probably wouldn't feel the same if you have to go every day. i don't know about too much empathy. i always thought it's unquantifiable; you either have it or you don't. but it's a damn useful ability to have especially if you're working with people.