I came across a story in The Washington Post recently about a nurse in South Dakota haunted by memories of patients who were dying from Covid-19.
The ones who stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real: The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the USA… all while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real.
I’m tempted to call the story heartbreaking, but it’s more like brain-breaking: how can people who are so sick that they have to be hospitalized still refuse to believe in the existence of the very disease that is killing them? How can they insist that they know more about their condition than the medical professionals who are working tirelessly to try to save them? And how can they scream at these workers and suggest that they should take off their protective equipment?
But then I’m reminded of an insight from The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett:
Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend. Thinking’s a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can. That’s why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they’re arrived at, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane and self-evident. And if you let it get away from you, then you’ve got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wrangle yourself out another to take its place.
And I suppose that a hospital deathbed is not the easiest platform from which to launch a dive back into that “foggy muddle” — a realization that helps me muster up some empathy for my fellow humans, no matter how much our worldviews may differ.
Scenes like these are reminders that we humans need meaning in our lives as much as we need our next breath. As Nietzsche explained (and as quoted by Victor Frankl and Yuval Noah Harari), “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”