Friday, February 01, 2008
A Moment of Peace
My hospital shift this week was bracketed by two very sad cases: 1) a homeless patient with dual addiction/psych issues, yearning for lost connection with family, and 2) a victim of domestic violence. The staff seemed fairly sympathetic to the homeless patient (asking me to visit rather than telling me not to visit, as they sometimes do), but I found the responses to the DV victim a bit discouraging. There was quite a bit of that "well, why don't you just leave" attitude, communicated a bit too openly to the patient, who was doing the right thing in pressing charges and surely didn't need a guilt trip on top of physical injuries.
I'll try not to go into a full-fledged rant about this, but look: if leaving were easy, it would already have happened. There are reasons (economic, emotional, psychological) why people stay, and the trick is to figure out what those are and work with them. Every relationship is more complicated than it looks from the outside.
Also, one of the classic abuser tactics is making the victim feel responsible. "If you didn't do X, I wouldn't have to hit you," or whatever. "This is your fault." So if the powers-that-be compound that by saying, "It's your fault because you didn't leave," or send a message that sounds anything like that, they're inadvertently reinforcing the abuser's line.
(Note: When I was nineteen, I was on the receiving end of a domestic assault from someone with whom I had a long and very complicated relationship. I was ideally positioned not to go back there, and didn't, but it was still one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do, partly because I genuinely cared about this person -- who'd become violent in an alcoholic blackout, didn't remember anything the next morning, and was truly appalled -- and partly because I knew I wasn't the innocent angel many of my indignant friends were trying to convince me I was. The message I needed to hear, and finally did hear from an excellent therapist, was, "It's okay not to go back even if you've done things wrong, including not heeding earlier warning signs. This isn't about whether you're blameless. It's about the fact that domestic violence is always wrong, whether the other party is a saint or not.")
I ranted anyway, didn't I? End of rant! Anyway, in the middle of the shift, which was also full of squalling kids, I glanced into a room and saw a rare scenario of peace. A young couple had come in some hours earlier; spouse1 had been up all night vomiting, and spouse2 was anxious and worn. When I glanced toward their bedside, spouse1 was peacefully asleep under a warm blanket; spouse2, sitting on a stool, had lowered the bedrail and leaned over to take a nap too. There were two heads on the pillow, side by side. It was a beautiful portrait of love and connection, a reminder that in a world with too much pain, there are still healthy and nurturing relationships.