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  • Nanci

Manage Expectations

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

The more I travel to India, the more I realize how similar people are everywhere in the world. Almost everyone wants simple answers that are quick and painless. Sometimes our medical team gets discouraged because most of the villagers just want a prescription for pills that will take their pain away without having to do anything else. I can’t really blame them. They live in such difficult circumstances with little understanding of how their bodies work. But, we are the same way in the United States. If there was a pill to help our muscles get stronger without exercise, you better believe people would line up for miles to get it.

Last year I was working in my room with a couple of patients when a mob of people came crashing through the door, four of whom were carrying a man like a bag each holding an extremity. His wild screams made me think he was being pulled apart by his “rescue squad”.

He was a captain who slipped off his boat into the canal and was smashed between two vessels before sinking into the water. He had been terrified of water because he couldn’t swim. His friends knew our medical team was “in town” because we had been at the boat dock the day before on our way to Khola Island. They “four-man carried” him for over a mile to our clinic. After a thorough examination and plenty of screaming from the patient we decided he had broken his wrist, twisted his knee, and bruised his jaw.

I made him a splint for his wrist, gave him an ice pack for his jaw, and splinted his knee. He was quite beat up and I didn’t have much hope that he would heal well enough to fully get back to work. He had been so hysterical that he spent a long time in my examination room trying to settle down and ready himself for the trek back to his house. I gave him instructions about how to keep everything stable for the next few months, but doubted he would follow them. I also worried that the near-drowning experience put him at great risk for a deadly lung infection.

When I returned a full year later, the captain paid me a visit again. His smooth gait and speech showed a well-healed knee and jaw. His wrist had good motion too, and though his knee was sore, the ligaments were intact. I was pleased to see how well he had healed.

I greeted him and found that he was frustrated. He complained about his knee hurting and that he couldn’t walk as well as before the accident. A ligament test verified that his knee had healed well, but since he had babied his injured knee, his muscles were far too weak. So I did the only thing that would help him: I showed him simple exercises to build-up the muscles that strengthen and protect his knee. But he wasn't interested in exercises.

I spent twenty precious minutes with him as others waited in line, trying to talk him into doing the exercises for ten minutes each morning and night. But still he wanted—expected—me to give him a magic pill to fix his knee.

Don’t we all want that pill? We think we know what we need and get frustrated when it isn’t handed to us on a platter. Often our problem is simply a shift in perspective—we take a situation for which we should be grateful and turn it into cause for a festering sense of victimization. I thought that this man, living in rural India, crushed between two boats, with no access to other medical care, had fared rather well. But he thought his knee should work as well as it had before.

What a difference in perspective.

Isn't this what we believe of God. We say, "Just give me what I want and everything will be great." But God wants us to train hard. He does not give us all the answers, all the easy pills. He wants to make us stronger. But often we are too weak to do our exercises.

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