Friday, September 29, 2006

Saints of all Sizes

I'm thinking about Mr. Ashman. More particularly, I've been thinking about his wife. We've admitted him for a very severe pneumonia, but the reason he stands out is more serious. See Mr. Ashman suffers from ALS, a debilitating disease which will slowly remove every muscular function of his body, leaving only his ability to think and be aware of his surroundings. This is oddly helpful if you are Steven Hawking, and your job involves sitting and thinking. But Mr. Ashman is just a regular guy, who found out 5 years ago that his tremors and weakness were a sign that very soon, he would be utterly helpless.

He was 35.

Now he is unable to breathe on his own, as the disease has affected his diaphragm, he is unable to walk, move his arms, or speak. Aside from turning his head, he can only move his right index finger.

But his wife is the reason he is still alive. She takes care of his ventilator, attends to his needs, and when necessary translates the cryptic gasping sounds that remain of his voice. On its own, this would be touching. What is almost staggering is the fact that she is one of the most upbeat people I've ever met. It is cheering to everyone in the ICU to see her.

Cheering and instructive. Through my past few months, I have so rarely seen happy stories that I'm tempted to slide into depression. But here is someone who lives the saddest story of all and is coping magnificently. My hope is that anyone so unfortunate to be in Mr. Ashman's condition could have someone like Mrs. Ashman around. For everyone else, there's just me.

The paths of pain are thine. Go forth
With patience, trust, and hope;
The sufferings of a sin-sick earth
Shall give thee ample scope.

6 comments:

Thainamu said...

There aren't a great many Mrs. Ashmans in this world, but I'm glad you got to meet one of them. I bet you (and your colleagues) could be an encouragement to her to let her know how good of a job she is doing. Which you probably already have done.

Aiming at Proverbs 31 said...

Thank you for that. It helps to know that cheerfulness is noticed and can acutally help someone who sees it. Where is the poem from?

Nathan said...

Thanks for the replies. The poem is a stanza from Whittier's "To a Young Physician."

Zwerver said...

It's so strange to read this entry: i just last night dreamed of an old colleague of mine who has ALS. I dreamed that even though he's in a wheelchair and can't really talk much, he was back at work and i was so glad to see him. I never think of him; how weird that I dreamed of his last night, then read this entry today.

Steve Hayes said...

Thank God for saints -- of any size!

Nathan said...

zwerver - very interesting. I don't know what else to say, but our world can be quite mystifying at times.

Steve - Indeed!