I got home late last night on my bike with a good seven or eight pints in me, enough to bring out some color. I was clumsily rifling through my keys when I noticed my next door neighbors gathered around someone on the ground.
I announced myself as a trained EMT and offered to help. A young man had vomited over the porch balcony and fallen over, knocking his head and bleeding a bit. I cleaned up the cut, which looked worse than it actually was, and I made sure he wasn't dizzy or unduly shocked. After going through the routine of pupils and pulse and establishing that he hadn't lost consciousness, wasn't seeing spots and wasn't epileptic or anything of that order, I pronounced him basically fine; the bleeding had already stopped and I told him that he should see an Urgent Care center in the morning, just to be sure.
I've done this sort of thing dozens and dozens of times, enough for it to feel routine; keeping people safe at a traffic accident scene until the ambulance arrives, small children bleeding and crying on the playground, nothing on a truly challenging order, only enough for people to be scared. I'm good at reassuring people who are scared. I'm told that people trust me implicitly, almost instinctively.
One of my residents is in Stage IV lung cancer and advanced chemotherapy. He's a Vietnam veteran, a small, lanky man with big, piercing eyes and a sardonic, self-pitying manner. He desperately holds on to the fixtures of his life as a means of coping with it.
My reassurance shtick doesn't work quite so well with him. The things I do, the promises I make cannot go as far as they would with anyone else. He simply doesn't have time to feel reassured. He needs constant progress, constant activity, constant evidence that his is not the hopeless battle that everyone knows it is. He's fighting for his life and he's losing every day, and that fight alone consumes everything about him.
He trusts me and respects me, and is deeply appreciative of the things I do for him. It is enough for him that I do what I can do. What suprises me is how pained I am that I fail to reassure him. It reminds me of my failures to reassure my Mom and my late Grandpa, failures identical in that they sought of me (or I sought of myself) the ability to overcome such minor, insubstantial obstacles as, say, metastasized cancer or imminent foreclosure.
I remain deeply resentful of my inability to beat the living shit out of metastasized cancer. I secretly burn and shake at my impotence with issues any more challenging than a shallow cut from a drunken fall. It is a point of deep regret.