Big Toe in the Water
When Joe was assigned to me as a patient I was initially going to refuse, because I was scared to death.
Joe, a talented auto mechanic, had been working under his car fixing his radiator. He was very familiar with this job, with this car, and with what needed to be done. He knew if he turned his wrench a full turn, the contents of the radiator would spill out. He knew he only had to nudge it a tiny bit.
That day that Joe was under his car, working on his radiator, he thought he was safe. This was familiar territory.
When Joe gently turned his wrench just a bit — just the amount he knew he should — to his surprise the radiator cap broke and spilled the entire burning hot contents on to his chest and arm.
Joe, a large man standing over 6’ 4” and easily weighing 220 lbs., had third degree burns on more than a third of his body. He was placed in isolation. He was in agonizing pain.
I was a student nurse at the time, working a summer job at my local hospital. What Joe didn’t know was that something as innocuous as washing my hands with the Iodine soap before I entered his room was bringing up my own painful memories. I, too, had been the victim of a serious burn.
At the age of five, I was placed in a burn unit after suffering second and third degree burns across a third of my body. While the physical scars had disappeared decades ago, the emotional memory of having my burns painfully cleaned three times each day with that Iodine soap remained.
The other memory I had was of all the kind nurses and physicians who cared for me, a small child in isolation, with a Mother who was only briefly permitted to visit each day.
Now I was assigned to Joe as his aide. I got to know Joe well as the weeks progressed. He was in his early 30s and married and didn’t have any children. One day early in his hospital stay when I entered his room, I found him pacing, his chest and arm covered in fresh white bandages. His wounds had just been cleaned and redressed.
I knew he was in great pain. I could sense it, and I could feel it. I could see the immense suffering on his face. It was here I decided to say something I had just been taught in school.
“Joe,” I said. I paused then continued, “You know it’s okay to cry?” He looked at me in surprise and stopped pacing. And then he just stood there, quiet for a short moment, before a couple of very quiet sounds escaped from his throat. His shoulders moved up and down. Like the hot fluid that had been trapped in his car radiator — trying to escape — all the pain he was experiencing also needed to be released. And he let it happen.
Several weeks later Joe was preparing for his discharge from the hospital. He looked at me and smiled as he was getting ready to leave, since he had lost over 30 lbs., his clothes were hanging on his body, and he saw the humor in the situation.
I wheeled him down to meet his wife who was picking him up, and before he left, he stopped and looked at me for a long moment. He quietly said, “You have no idea how much your words helped me that day. I didn’t even think I wanted to go on…Thank you so much.”
I watched Joe and his wife walk away hand in hand. Their lives would never be the same.
Photo: Sculpture “Melancolie” by Albert György
I don’t need to be the one to tell you that life is filled with challenges. Now in the midst of a global pandemic, with racial and political frustrations boiling over the top, we see immense suffering. Some people are suffering the loss of loved ones. Others are struggling to find work to pay the bills. And some people are dealing with both of these situations at the same time.
I teach Mindfulness as a way to decrease one’s stress, so that one can focus on what needs to be done. Mindfulness is not about being happy. It is about being authentic. It is about knowing it is okay to cry. I’ll say it again: yes, it is okay to cry. We all have had good reasons to cry over these past several months as we’ve watched our lives be turned upside down – much of it not in a pleasant way at all. We have seen so much of what we took for granted removed from our lives: a handshake, seeing the smile of a colleague, hugging a dear friend.
However, there is also joy. Joy in being able to once again connect in this new normal, while recognizing all our emotions as they bubble up to the surface and allowing them all to find a place to rest in our heart.
And now, a brief trip to Italy.
I invite you to watch this video and notice
how it makes you feel, the sensations
in your body, and even noticing your mood.
Harriet is now teaching one hour virtual programs!
Recent comments from those who attended:
“This presentation provided a new perspective of mindfulness and how simple, small changes can have a positive impact on your well-being, especially now during COVID-19.”
“The activity was spot on, seemed a little silly at first, but really helped to release stress and instantly had relief in some shoulder pain I’ve had recently.”
“I used the technique over the weekend to fall back asleep and it 100% worked.”
“It helped me to relax and refocus in the middle of a workday — that says a lot!
Mindfulness is a great stress reliever and productivity boost.”
There is no better time to teach your employees how to decrease their stress and increase their ability to focus!
Harriet Stein brings Mindfulness Programs to organizations of all sizes to transform employee productivity, engagement, and satisfaction.
Mindfulness is now being incorporated by organizations to lower healthcare costs, support employees in staying focused which improves their performance, and reduce levels of stress.