Are you comfortable in your own skin? Please stay with me -- this is not another weight management missive. I'm referring to being comfortable with your figurative self, stripped of any material belongings that distinguish you and boost your self-esteem. I never thought much about it until today, as I lay on my back awaiting a medical procedure.
The nurse had ushered me behind a curtain and handed me the crinkly, 70s style, blue-green medical gown with the usual instructions. She breezily added that I could "get comfortable" until the doctor arrived. Get comfortable? With nothing but a precariously thin, floating curtain between me and a chaotic corridor crowded with roaming patients, nurses and doctors?
I did as I was told, quickly getting into the gown, storing my garments in the plastic bag provided, and covering myself to the neck with the rough but concealing blanket provided. I proceeded to lie there (uncomfortably, thank you) waiting for my doctor for one hour and 46 minutes.
Stripped of all my belongings and with nothing to distract me, I stared up at the ceiling and listened to the conversations. The nurses chatted about recipes, schedules and how the previous shift misplaced certain supplies. The doctors briefed their post-op patients and communicated medical orders. The patients seemed a cheery lot, happy to make conversation with anyone who swung open their curtain to take their blood pressure or connect their I.V.
My mind pondered the scene. I thought about how vulnerable we are in the hospital, nearly naked with nothing to distinguish us beyond a paper I.D. bracelet or curtain area "1, 2, 3..." We're simple human beings awaiting tests and procedures, and hoping our bodies will turn in passing grades. No designer labels, no signs of affluence based on the most brilliant wedding ring or bold designer watch. Here, no one could know if we owned the latest smartphone technology or an older, flip phone version. Do we get around in a beater or BMW? Own or rent? No matter.
We can become accustomed to assessing ourselves and others based on what we own, the material things we see and show. We get preoccupied with gathering and caring for "our stuff," as George Carlin so aptly described it in his 1986 Comic Relief appearance. But today in this hospital we can't lead with our stuff. Our personalities alone had to do our bidding. How would we fare?
When we are exposed in this way, we are forced to think about who we really are:
- How do I come across to people when all they can see is my smile or frown in this ugly gown?
- Am I open or closed off, do I impress with just my personality?
- How did I spend my time this week? Was I gathering more stuff or did I help myself become a better person? Did I help anyone this week?
- Did I gather things I needed or wanted (or wanted and convinced myself I needed)?
I like stuff as much as the next person. But I'm going to be more mindful of how I spend my time and energy. Today was a good reminder of how important that is.