Three times a day, as though responding to some signal audible only to the generously medicated, we rise from our beds to join the slow procession around the perimeter of the unit. Like slumped, disheveled royalty, each of us blearily leads our retinue of anxious loved ones who push our IV poles, bear sweaters to ward off the harsh air conditioning and hover to prevent stumbles. Some make eye contact. Few talk. Each of us is absorbed in our suffering and our longing to return to our bed.
I find this experience strangely moving.
Despite the nausea, dizziness and enough mind-altering drugs to fell a horse, so many of us fight our way to consciousness, creakily right ourselves and step out of our rooms to join the others. At that moment we are able to say “I’ll do the one thing they say might help me get better,” taking one painstaking step after the next – the height of our ambition meets the limits of our abilities – to resume the life we left behind when we entered the hospital.
This is one glimpse of what it means to be engaged in our health care.
Jessie Gruman, PhD, is the founder and president of the Washington, DC -based Center for Advancing Health. She is the author of Aftershock: What to Do When You or Someone you Love is Diagnosed with a Devastating Diagnosis. She blogs regularly on thePrepared Patient Forum.