Though not a doctor, I frequently saw myself as if I was looking at someone else until the pain or exhaustion overwhelmed me. The fatigue is persistent, and exhaustion finds me during the day, even after a good night’s sleep. Fatigue can start first thing in the morning upon waking, and sometimes I am so tired that I want to stay in bed.

I never received a lot of affirmation as a kid. I remember myself as the fifth fiddle in a two-fiddle band. Now, even as my body deteriorates, I cling to the role of a healthcare technology professional as a critical source of self-esteem. It’s not an attempt to make up for childhood. Instead, I find the satisfaction of providing quality services worthy, even if such services remain in the background. 

In this sense, patients continually wrestle with mortality, suffering, and pain. I wrestle with a sense of who I am and what I could become. However, like the guy searching for meaning and the one screaming in fear, answers are personal. One’s response isn’t to another. The days of pain that sporadically occurred have combined to plaster my bones relentlessly. Only then, I realize how exhausted I am.

Most patients develop responses to pain and exhaustion. As such, walking this path has also allowed me to build my reactions. Though I’ve not become overly calloused or distanced, my style differs from another. Each of us generates a rhythm of comfort, even if the response sometimes appears distant to others. However, throughout my path, I discovered institutions devalue those who occupy both patient and employee roles.

In my world, illness threatens jobs, power, and all aspects of one’s life. Institutions have difficulty with workers occupying both terminal and employee. Hence, I have tried to integrate vantage points from both to provide a sense of the whole. For the sake of the employer, I could choose to die. However, I’ve become more aware of how my life connects with others. 

The fact that I am a patient has allowed me to commit to lessening the misery of others. In doing so, I cannot rage against life’s inequities. I just can’t. For one, I don’t have the energy. Second, I want to own as much of my life as possible. And third, although hospitals can be the portal to death, they are places of miracles. The third is what keeps many working, even into death.

Unbeknownst to management, a small room houses photos of clinicians (nurses, respiratory therapists, and doctors who perished during COVID). The corporate decision-makers ordered the removal of such homages, stating, ‘We don’t want to tarnish the brand.’ Management’s shame of silence still haunts many who remain committed to those who served and died—so we moved them to a place that only staff knows.

One common feature in those who died and me: even in exhaustion, is a belief that walking away from what we do is not an option. I heard repeated variations of. “I didn’t think about it. I must be at the hospital tomorrow.”

And for now, even in exhaustion, I must be at work tomorrow.