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Doubt is the brother of shame

When I was still in Chicago persuing my PhD, there was a professor in the department who had some medical issues. I don't recall the exact diagnosis now, but he was confined to a wheelchair and seemed to have multiple problems. From what I had been told, he had once been head of the department at one time and had many scientific accolades to his name. Ever since his decline, he stayed around, but it was pretty clear that he was no longer really functional. At one get together he had been wheeled into the room and at some point, his catheter had become separated from his leg bag. He ended up urinating all over the floor in the midst of various professors and graduate students, most of which pointedly ignored the situation. My adviser at the time grabbed a handful of paper towels and tried to unobtrusively clean it up.

I remember feeling such a rush of shame for the man while watching all of this. He didn't even seem aware of what had happened, and I couldn't decide if that made it all the worse or was simply a blessing in disguise. I couldn't think of anything more horrible than being in a situation like that and my immediate thought was that death would be a far better fate than what I was witnessing in the room that day. That scene comes back to me now as I'm thinking about how in the years since, I've sort of stepped into his shoes. I'm standing in my own pool of proverbial urine and it's hard not to think to myself that death would be better than this sort of shameful existence.

You can always rationalize events and say that it's not a person's fault when illness or disease creates situations out of their control. The fact remains that it doesn't really matter, right? There's still piss all over the floor and the only thing that might be worse than to see the repugnance on the face of others is to feel the condescension of their pity. Really, I had expected nothing better of the world, but the fact that it would also hold true with some of the few friends I have is what really cut to the quick. You can't blame people for acting like people. In the same situation, you can't say for sure you'd act any differently. Still, it's hard when you hear them mouth the platitudes and know they lie.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
jirel
Mar. 7th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
Umm, did I do condensation and pity? If so, I'm sorry I screwed up.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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