Minding Samuel

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The end of the year is always a busy week.  It is holiday time.  Our working ethos slows down and certainly the ebb and flow of work seems to have a quickened pace.  I had a seminar on Mindfulness to attend that day later, so my day was going to be packed between seeing my old patients and going to this seminar.  So when I was at work on the last day of the last week of the year, and saw that a new admission had come into hospital, I gave a long sigh.  And then when I saw that it was Samuel once again being admitted, my sigh got even longer.

Samuel usually elicited a typical response in most people.  The initial wave of sympathy he would generate would quickly dissipate and be replaced by frustration and irritation.  Samuel was a drug addict.    He was addicted to crack cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and nicotine.  He was usually hospitalized when he was "high" during which he was either psychotic or suicidal.  This time he was hospitalized because he was psychotic.

Samuel was "NFA".  No fixed address. He was in his early 30s and begged for a living.  He was in jail several times for stealing.  When I interviewed him, the drugs had long passed his system.  He seemed lucid and far from delusional.  He was angling to leave the hospital desperate for another drug hit.

"Samuel," I said to him, "It is going to be a New Year.  What is the one thing you want to do for yourself?"

"I want to quit drugs, Miss," he responded quickly.

"Why is it difficult for you to quit your habit? Is this how you want to live your life next year as well, in and out of hospitals and scrambling on the streets?"

He chuckled in response.  "Oh come on Miss," he said, "Who would want to live like me?  I live like a bum."

He laughed and I smiled.  No doubt, he had this conversation before with umpteen other physicians.

The background that Samuel came from should have given him all the advantages in the world.  His father was an international business executive and as a young child, he traveled all over the world and knew several foreign languages.  His family gave him a very good education that he was never able to complete due to his drug addiction.  And when Samuel was not under the influence of drugs, he was actually pleasant and good-natured.   

I had to cut the interview short.  I needed to be at a seminar in 15 minutes.  I told him I would interview him again after I came back. 
The seminar started off well.  It didn’t look like it was going to be another didactic bore. 

The seminar leader asked us to define life in the 21st century.  He went around the room, and we all had to give him a one-word answer to describe life in the 21st century.  Interestingly, most of the words used had negative connotations.  Busy. Fast. Complex. Challenging. Hard. Fun. Boring. Liberal. Superficial.    

It was the consensus that living a life in the 21st century is hectic.  It is filled with deadlines and projects and exams, unrealized expectations and emotional and physical disconnections with family and friends.  Living this kind of life is challenging to say the least. 

The seminar leader went on to explain to us that, "our lives are so busy that we are unable to appreciate our lives for their intrinsic value.  Intrinsic value can be different things for different people.  It can be something as simple as being alive and healthy or something more complicated like a world class education."

He told us that our happiness is within us, in the beauty of our own lives but instead of being aware of this beauty, we try to bring appreciation or happiness into our lives through means that actually brings about more stress, i.e. drugs, alcohol, bad relationships, etc. 

Living mindfully we learned makes our life notable and noteworthy by grounding us in the present moment, and by realizing the intrinsic value of our lives, we will be less willing to destroy our lives and bring unhappiness into it.

We ended our session on mindfulness with a raisin.

I was instructed to close my eyes and to put a single raisin in my mouth and feel the texture as I chewed on it. In the distance, the seminar leader also did the same and verbalized his sensations out loud.  "As you chew you are feeling the pieces of raisin breaking up and sticking to your tongue.  You taste the sweetness of raisin.  You are taking into consciousness the sweetness of the raisin and feeling its texture; you are mindful about eating the raisin."

Strange as this exercise seemed to me, the giggles eventually subsided and I became more involved in eating the raisin. I remember thinking that it was the sweetest raisin I ever tasted.  

He thanked us for coming to the seminar and he wished that we would all incorporate mindfulness into our lives in the New Year.

Being more mindful in the New Year.  I thought it was a good resolution.  Being mindful is about observing.  It is about understanding and being aware of the moment. And as one of my patients told me, "Life is about moments".   

We have a tendency to get too busy and ignore the beauty of the moment.  We are unaware of all the countless number of things we fill our lives with when what we really want to do is the complete opposite.  We are not mindful of the all the good we have in our lives: our family, our friends, our health, our education, our freedoms.  

I thought about Samuel and about his background.  I remember how surprised I was to learn that he came from a relatively happy background.  From previous admissions, his family seemed very nice and it was clear that they were at their wits end as to how to help Samuel. There were no extenuating circumstances that predicted Samuel’s downward spiral into drugs.  Could it be that he was not just mindful of his life?

I returned to Samuel after I was done with the seminar.  The nurses told me he was driving them crazy by asking to go off the ward every 10 minutes to smoke. 

"If he is well enough to smoke, he is well enough to be discharged from the hospital. There is no point keeping him in hospital.  He will be back again," I was told by the nurse. 

I met with Samuel.  He felt like he was being treated like a child because he had to ask permission to go outside and smoke.  He felt ready to leave the hospital.  We discussed his treatment plan.  He agreed to go into an addiction treatment program.  The same one he has attended previously.  He told me that this time it was different.

"How is it different?" I asked him.

"I don’t know, Miss," he said sheepishly, "It is just different."

It was not a very mindful answer.  I think the nurse was right.  I will be seeing Samuel again.

Author: Tanya Pinto- Canada

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