Trigger Warning: Substance Abuse
There’s beauty in pain. If you stop to see it. Sometimes there’s beauty in your own pain, but often you’ll never know it. You stop to watch people, you see them walking down the street, eyes averted. Stepping around each other. Never touching. The sun slides off them. You see the dust. You see the pain. There’s beauty there. Hiding behind them, intermixed in their story. There’s beauty. If your own pain lets you see it.
When you see the beauty of those who’s lives are different than yours, when you see the beauty of those who struggle, you gain the ability to see your own humanity and your own beauty. So often people are so wrapped up in their own pain that they never stop to see anyone else. And they certainly don’t see the beauty in someone else. I know. I’ve been that blind person so many times.
But every so often, we open our eyes and see what’s hidden behind the pain. Every so often we see the beauty that shines behind the anger, the fear, the pain.
The principal was Mr. D. I don’t know if he was a good principal, or if he’d been a good teacher. I don’t know if he ever gave a child the shoes from his feet, or if he ever used a strap on a kid. All I know is his perspective.
Mr. D smiled. When you walked in the room, he looked up and smiled. He always had a calm word of encouragement. Even when his life crashed before his eyes, he tried to lift others up.
I met him when he first came to the unit I worked on as an RN. He talked. I listened.
He didn’t know how to empathize with others without taking their pain as his own. After many years working with children no one wanted, children ignored, children abused, beaten, mistreated he couldn’t take it anymore. He drank.
His body couldn’t take it anymore. Slowly it shut down. His mind fragmented. Sometimes he shared amazing philosophical conversations, other times he couldn’t remember his daughters’ names.
The world is full of so much pain. So many sad, broken people. Sometimes those people are strong enough to keep fighting against all odds. Sometimes they hide their pain, fear, self loathing in substances. Other times the weight of the world’s problems become too much to bear.
Mr. D knew what the world should be like, but all he saw was the pain and sorrow. It was too much to bear.
Few people saw the pain in his heart. Few stopped and listened to him. But those that did heard a story filled with so much anguish they’d be amazed at how well he held up. One man who carried the weight of all the children who’d come to his school. A man who saw his mistakes, regretted them, and held tight to them. A man who tried to make the world a better place, one child, one drink, at a time.
Around the same time, another patient stands out in my memory. A young girl, a teen, with AIDS who was also really sick with another infection. She talked big and strong. She talked to frighten and revolt. She was terrified, hurt, and broken.
Most of the nurses wouldn’t even enter her room without security. They were terrified she’d attack with a needle. The nursing carts were required to be locked at all times. They were afraid she’d get a needle. She was sick. She just wanted to be better and get out of there.
After she’d been there a couple days, her detox was in full swing. It was bad. I had a word with the Dr. So did she. Soon the security detail left, and her detox stopped. The nurses were so angry. We needed to force her to stop doing drugs. She was such a pretty girl, and if she’d only stop doing drugs, she’d be okay.
She was a pretty girl. Don’t get me wrong. But she’d spent her whole life around drugs and drug users. Her parents and guardians used drugs, her boyfriend used. And when he couldn’t afford to pay, she was used. Using drugs numbed her pain. She told me about her pain. The pain of being forced. She told me about the pain while she laughed to hide a cry.
How can a person who’s whole life is pain ever change without someone showing them immense compassion and respect? Sure, we could have forced her body to clean itself out, much the way we could force her to shower. But a body gets dirty again, unless you clean the room it sleeps in. She described to me, in graphic detail, some of the abuses she suffered. Yes, she wanted to horrify me. But she also shared so much of her pain. There was nothing I could do, but listen.
I noticed her central line, the IV that goes right to her heart, had a hole in it. The risk was astronomical. She didn’t need to find veins when the doctors so nicely left direct access.
She got a new line.
Central lines require special needle-less adaptors to maintain their integrity. One day as I provided her care, I talked to her about the system and why it was so important not to use real needles. I also talked about her risk of infection if she didn’t clean the port properly. I may have left a pile of cleaning swabs in the room.
Later I talked with her again about the importance of not using needles. I also talked to her about using clean needles to protect both herself and others. With the doctor’s agreement, I left a pile of needle-less adaptors in the room, by mistake, of course.
We both agreed the risk to her and others was much greater if we didn’t teach her how to be safe.
It was one small act. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have shown her that there are good people in the world. I wish I could have done something to ease the pain and fear she carried in her soul. Instead I provided her with a needle and direct access to her heart. She smiled. She got better. She went home.
Every person has a story behind their pain. No story is better, no pain is worse. Each person has their own pain that neither diminishes nor worsens someone else’s pain.
I think of these two people often. Their journey impacted me in so many ways. Their journeys taught me a new kind of compassion and acceptance. Their paths crossed mine and made me see my patients as people in a way I hadn’t seen them before. My life, my world, is better because these people were in our world.
Today I’d like you to think about your own beauty, and the beauty of someone who’s hurt you. Even with the pain, the anger, the sadness. Look for the beauty. Your heart will thank you.