Humility

Posted by Gary on Aug 15th, 2008

There’s a tube down his throat to help him breathe.  The tube comes out of his neck and his breath bypasses his mouth.  They call it a trachea.   The doctors had to do it.  The infection had gotten so bad that his airway had almost swollen closed.  The previous set of doctors had dismissed the periodic coughing episodes as unimportant.  Now it was close to closing off his breathing.  The coughing had gotten worse and difficulty breathing couldn’t be dismissed anymore.

Phlegm builds up in his throat and trachea tube every hour or two.  It starts gurgling in his throat.  His body convulses in a coughing gag reflex effort to clear his airway.

We tell the nurse who calls the respiratory therapist.  The respiratory therapist puts a tube deep down his trachea and sucks out the phlegm.  She puts it down so far that it touches is internals.  It makes him heave a cough that lifts his whole upper body.  It looks like torture.  Not being able to breath normally.  Not even being able to clear one’s own throat.  Not being able to help him do something so simple that we all do so naturally all the time.  So easy to take your breath for granted when it comes so easily most of the time.

With the trachea tube in his throat bypassing his vocal cords he can’t talk.  He tries to write some words but that is difficult.  The farm equipment accident injured his left hand years ago.  That coupled with years of arthritis makes small hand manipulations difficult and his letters sloppy.  The morphine he’s on for the pain tends to make his mind fuzzy so he misspells words.   With sloppy writing and fuzzy spelling it is difficult to understand what he’s trying to write.   He’s beyond frustrated that he can’t tell us the simplest things that he wants… needs.  No way to clearly tell us what would make him more comfortable.

I can’t make him breathe easier.  I can’t make his fear go away that is a reflex from choking and gagging while the phlegm blocks his throat.  I can’t clear his throat.  I can’t make the infection in his throat go away that started this cascading of events and discomforts.  I can’t go back in time and change what transpired to have my dad end up in this hospital bed.

I’m not powerless and I don’t feel victimized.  There are simply things that I can do, and others that I don’t have power over. I’m not frustrated or angry.  I’m just aware that I don’t control the bodily functions, immune system, or emotions, of another human being.

I think knowing what you can’t change, and accepting it falls into the category of humility.  It’s not a joy in itself.  However it is far more peaceful than fighting what you can not change.  Life is a big place and respecting the forces of it is part of being impeccable. Death is one of those forces on the human body to respect.  Doing so can teach you a lot about savoring the moments of your life.  Little moments like breathing, or being able to speak and ask for what you want.

I don’t think those folks who proclaim, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it,” ever sat with their dad through the challenges of old age and a body with ailing health.

Humility isn’t about following the overly optimistic positive side of your personality to think you can create and change anything in life.  Nor is it about falling into the negative side of self importance and feeling victimized about life either.  Humility has to do with transcending both sides of self importance all together: the aspect that says you are helpless, and the aspect that says you can accomplish anything you can dream.  There is a middle way.

In the west our mind is so apt to put things into categories of being a winner or a loser,,, a success or a failure.   These are the dual images of self importance to avoid.  When you practice humility, you are no longer trapped by either of those limiting roles or labels.