ethel’s words

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My brother had experienced a sudden loss of balance, blurred vision, confusion, apprehension. He soon realized his arm and leg on one side would not function. He made it to the telephone and was able to dial a doctor’s number that he had posted for medical emergencies. He was a veteran, a retired career naval officer.

The doctor answered the phone. When my brother started to speak he discovered he’d lost the ability to make words with his usual careful enunciation. The doctor did not give helpful advice, such as, “just your address--” but rather said, tersely, “Call me back when you’re sober”.

My brother was stunned and hurt. He did not drink nor smoke (though that had nothing to do with religion). He felt totally helpless.

He lived in a small, drop-in-for-coffee town. Luckily, a neighbor happened by and drove him to a local hospital that soon sent him by ambulance to a major medical center. But precious time had been lost. The pain of that rebuff by the doctor--a doctor!--stayed with him. He never recovered use of his limbs--he had had beriberi as a prisoner of war--but his brain functioning was intact.

I could cry--still--that anyone would treat my brother that way, and that the opportunity for the effective IMMEDIATE treatment for stroke had been lost.

That episode fortified knowledge I had already absorbed distantly--reading about a man who was found supine on a city sidewalk and had been transported by police and deposited in the “drunk tank”. His condition was entirely medical.

A friend of mine, an academic of stature, was visiting friends, a poor family in Mexico, where he vacationed and savored the culture. He died at their home; first news reports were that he had been attacked. Autopsy indicated he had had a severe stroke; in falling, his head struck a coffee table.

My spouse once met a niece at the airport to visit between flights. I was at work. A couple of days later, a friend told my spouse that he had heard gossip about my spouse “having lunch with an attractive young woman” (implying impropriety) at an airport restaurant. It was amusing, as my spouse was frequently in the company of attractive young women--usually, doing work-related presentations.

Through these occurrences, I had learned caution that served me well, as in this one example: I inherited a family affliction--supraventricular tachycardia--an inconvenience that sometimes caused me embarrassment. And if I were to say, “Oh, I am having a little trouble with my heart”, persons would panic and want to call an ambulance. So I kept mum through the decades (until ablation therapy liberated me).

One morning I had the worst attack I had ever experienced. I was driving to an early morning staff meeting. I pulled over and shut off the engine, noting I was in front of a residence...

One of several tricks that would usually stop the wild pounding of my heart was to hang my head down. I could not safely leave a car door open on the street side, so I slipped over to the passenger seat, opened the door and hung my head down.

But only for a few moments. I realized someone would think me drunk and call the police, even at that early morning hour. I decided I must continue on. With great caution, avoiding thoroughfares, I drove to the meeting place, got my heart under control, and made it to the meeting, though late.

My conclusion is, consider: What we are doing or experiencing is not what matters--it is the APPEARANCE of our activities that causes us trouble. The tendency to “blame the victim” may be partly due to “thinking the worst”. If we evaluate a situation and get to a point of sheer speculation, we should remember that one can speculate forever (as I have written elsewhere) and we should avoid “thinking the worst”.

Ethel C. Hale