Negotiating peace

There are disparities between warring factions in my thoughts and feelings all the time. For most of them, I find an uneasy peace of sorts. I get to a position that seems right to me and stick with it. Since this week I am writing about the importance of reconciliation in developing community, I thought I’d share two examples of internal conflicts that I experience.

First, babies on airplanes. Like many people, I like babies a lot. When they giggle and coo, I think they are among the best things on the planet. Show me a baby sleeping, with a bottle, squirming, or stretching, and I want to hold it. Unless they are crying on a plane. Historically I then joined many other people who want the kid to shut up and the mother to have the decency to look worried and embarrassed, announcing loudly that she will never fly with that child again.

These thoughts and feelings are clearly in conflict for me. The dissenting points of view, if not examined with an eye to reconciling them, could have gone on indefinitely. But the thing is, this dissention was unpleasant for me, so I addressed it head on. About 15 years ago I was on a zillion hour flight right next to one of those arched-backed, red-faced, wrinkled-brow, screaming infants who was sweating bullets and showing uvula. At some point, I just surrendered – not to my feelings of getting the flight attendant to give the infant a parachute – to just being with my feelings, as my feelings. In a few short minutes, I realized that I wanted to join that baby in wailing. I wanted to show my terror, discomfort, and anger about being trapped in an uncomfortable plane with strangers. I briefly explored those feelings of terror, discomfort, and anger and soon realized that almost none of their current intensity had anything to do with that infant, but everything to do with old experiences with feeling powerless to change my circumstances. In short, I felt trapped.

In minutes, I leaned toward that mother and said something like, “Your baby is really beautiful.” She immediately apologized and said that she was sorry he was fussing so much. I replied that he was fine and that I felt like joining him in good, loud scream. While the mother studied me, I looked more closely at the tiny boy and we caught each other’s eyes. In a few more minutes, he was taking those little gasps of air that come right before babies stop crying. He sniffled a bit. He took his bottle. He started to doze.

Reconciliation in me offered the chance in reconciliation around me. Since then I generally approach moms board planes with infants on their own and ask if I can help. If she says she has everything under control, I offer two more times. When deplaning, I offer again, stating that it is not too late to reconsider. If I am seated within ear shot or sight lines, I smile at the two of them and say nice things about them to the people around me. If the child cries and screams or doesn’t, I report how much I like babies. I don’t do this out of pretense, but rather because I genuinely like babies and put attention on that value.

A second example of an internal conflict of mine involves poor health care experiences. This war zone, however, is still in arbitration. In the past five years, my late husband and I have had no fewer than twenty hospital admissions. These experiences range from quite good to deplorable. Many of the hospitalizations were followed by stays in rehabilitation facilities; all were in the context of daily home health aid services. No fewer than 20 departments and clinics were part of the care plans; pharmacies, durable medical equipment, and various therapies were involved. In the best of these experiences, we were comforted by kind, competent, and life-saving care. In the worst, we were greeted with incompetent, arrogant, defensive, de-humanizing behaviors that could have been deadly.

Unlike the example of the crying baby on the plane, I could not find concordance in my warring feelings in a matter of minutes. In fact, the war persists. When my spouse was lost in an emergency room for 50 minutes, I doggedly addressed issue after issue with the gate keepers there until he was found. For weeks after I called managers, directors, and vice-presidents. Policies and procedures got reviewed by the hospital and some changes were made. The external terms of armistice were developed and agreed upon, but I still feel unresolved – somehow devoid of harmony.

When I was scolded for coming to the ER and getting a series of costly tests at the direction of my physician and the staff of an urgent care clinic, I explained again why I was there and asked that the irate ER doctor take his complaint to my cardiologist and not to me. Still, I feel angry when I recall this experience. I also feel shocked when I recall the time when my spouse was piled into my car by three hospital staff after a day surgery with the expectation that I was somehow going to be able to get him out of the car safely on my own.

I have pondered these feelings for quite a while. I recognize that they are related to several experiences and decisions in my past:
– I decided to take care of my spouse and promised to do so.
– I felt powerless in these health care examples as I did sometime in childhood.
– I felt alone in these experiences as I did when I was frightened as a child.
– I recognize that the people involved with these health care examples are not the sole source of the problem, but rather bigger forces are at play. This is similar to childhood experiences when my parents’ overwork and fatigue correlated to my periodic mistreatment.

My urge to litigate, report hospitals and clinics to the Joint Commission on Health Care Organizations, and exact some pound of flesh are deeply connected to these unresolved feelings. Even though my feelings are not more harmonious, my need to act on them is subsiding. It is useful to note that I am not resigned to things remaining the same in health care. I am not planning to surrender to this unsatisfactory status quo. But I am also not pretending that my inner wars are caused by these health care bungles. They merely resonate with them, are stimulated by them. Acting on the basis of these feelings is so irrational that I would be escalating an external set of conditions to the level of my internal conflict of feelings from the past.

So instead of calling the lawyers and pouring over the hospital’s accreditation, I write. I write the details of the experiences. I write my feelings about them. I try to arrange as best I can the chronology of events. I do this writing not as evidence, but to help me make sense of it. I write in hopes of meeting with health care administrators to inform them of the problems in their systems and show them firsthand the impact of their policies and procedures on the people about whom they express their commitment to care.

When rafting in white water, I was taught  to paddle like hell instead of holding on. This technique pushes you into the raft instead of trying to fight the forces of nature.

When rafting in white water, I was taught to paddle like hell instead of holding on. This technique pushes you into the raft instead of trying to fight the forces of nature.

I find myself still feeling unresolved in this approach, but nonetheless pleased. I am not satisfied with this decision as my end point, but I am happy with myself for getting to it. I believe that reconciling our internal conflicts is required in developing community. Sometimes we are pleased with our outcomes, sometimes satisfied, and sometimes both.

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