Yesterday was my first (and hopefully only) time as a patient in ER. It was a bad case of the flu. Six days of chills, body aches, headaches and sore throat, to grogginess, to extreme fatigue. I lay in bed for hours, and barely stood up for a moment before I had to go back to sleep. Finally I was urged to go see a doctor. There were no doctors I could find for an immediate consultation. The result: ER.
So I go there feeling dizzy, sick, and sorry for myself and my state.
The sliding doors open and my mind starts racing. My heart starts pounding. I just want to leave. I’m so scared of seeing other sick patients, people with wounds, older patients on wheelchairs, children coughing, a pale woman looking out at the horizon numbly. My instinct is to immediately get away. I really have nothing to do there, and nothing in common with any person in that room.
“Hi, welcome. Do you need to see a doctor today?” says the woman in registration. She smiles kindly, and I feel like I’ve come to a wonderful place, all of a sudden.
“Yes, please.” I reply, wondering why I didn’t leave immediately just a minute ago.
“Sure! Please sign here and we’ll call your name in a few minutes. Make yourself comfortable.” Her welcoming warmth seems out of context. I was expecting a robotic and cold ambience.
One hour goes by in the ER waiting room. Flocks of patients continue to walk in and out the doors. More wheelchairs, more coughs, sprains, spaced- out looks. I am still breathing anxiously, trying to separate myself (at least mentally) from everyone else in the room.
Two and a half hours wait… Finally my breath relaxes. For the first time in six days, I have stopped worrying about when I will be healthy again, and I become aware of so many other people seeking health themselves. Once my breath is more easeful, a spark of compassion starts replacing the fear. There is suddenly a familiar sense of connectedness that clears out the urge to get away. I breathe deeply, and finally feel my muscles relax into the wait.
An other hour later a doctor calls my name. She asks how I’ve been feeling. Makes eye contact, smiles warmly. Even makes a joke about my ski pants and jacket and the fact that the weather these days has that perk: dressing up as if we’re going to our favorite ski resort. I laugh and relax a little more.
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As we walk by the cubicles with critical care patients, I suddenly notice I am no longer shuddering with fear and the pressing need to leave. I become a little more tolerant of sharing this ER space with critical care patients, I feel grateful for these incredible doctors taking the time to be with each patient with full presence, taking care of our health issue, however big or small.
And then it hits me, this is my time for yoga, here, in the middle of the ER frenzy. As I sit in yet another waiting room, beside a man who has cut himself with an axe while chopping wood, I use my time to breathe, to surrender into this moment and this place, to send some good wishes to these people feeling unwell tonight. I mentally and whole heartedly thank the patients tonight who remind me we’re all connected, seeking health, seeking warmth, seeking happiness in life. I offer my deep respect to the doctors, who willingly offer their knowledge and expertise… and don’t faint at the sight of blood!
As I stand up to leave after my consultation, I notice I have fully reconnected with my body, I feel compassionate and patient with its ailing, thankful for everything it does for me, every day. My mind is serene underneath the beeps and noises in the room. I leave with a taste of the teaching from Iyengar: “It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”
Sometimes it takes an emergency room to be reminded of that.