Tuesday 12 April 2016
Stress and the human mind
Yesterday in the street I heard the familiar sound of a diesel vehicle approaching behind me; a mid-sized vehicle, like a small bus, a large pickup ... or an ambulance. I looked around sharply, because that's a sound that runs a chilly finger down my spine.
I've talked about my father's stroke and disability in this post. I explained that during his last eight years of life he faced difficulties including being confined to a wheelchair without the use of one side of his body. I briefly mentioned his cancer, surgeries, appointments, and loss of sight.
For all those medical issues, he had to travel by ambulance because the receiving hospitals did not have the correct patient lift which was required in order to move him from his wheelchair to a stretcher or operating room table and back again. And in some cases he would not have been able to return to the wheelchair anyway; his paralysis even on a good day caused him to list to one side - or, worse, to the front - and after surgeries he was safer and more comfortable lying down.
I didn't keep track of all the ambulance trips he had to make - although I could dig through my files and count the invoices he had to pay - but I do know that he had two cancer surgeries, two cataract surgeries, and one hand surgery in those eight years. He also had numerous abdominal ultrasounds (for an aortic aneurysm) and echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds), regular cancer checkups, several hospitalizations for pneumonia, eye appointments, CT scans, lung x-rays, specialist visits, and on and on and on. I accompanied him on all of these appointments except if I was sick or recovering from surgery myself, either travelling with him as a family member in the front of the ambulance, or meeting him in the ambulance bay of the hospital as he arrived, staying with him through his treatment, and seeing him off as he left to return to the nursing home.
I got to know the distinctive sound of an ambulance engine very, very well. And because of the stress involved each and every time, it wore a sore spot in my mind and my chest. Those occasions were stressful for him, and thus for me. And, now, for a little while on every occasion that I am exposed to that sound, the soreness returns, along with new pain from the sorrow at the reminder that my father is gone.
How much worse it must be for those who have experienced extreme stresses - of war, of inner-city violence, of childhood abuse, of horrors of any kind. I cannot know how it feels, because I have never experienced those things, but I can imagine. It is only in a small, limited way, but still ... I can imagine.
And I can start to understand.