In a microcosm contained in the walls of one building, there is no God, no celestial or divine force other than in the minds and hearts of the people bustling around the 10 floor maze of hallways, rooms, and departments. In this building you can find literature’s most common archetypal narrative pattern, “the Journey.” “The Journey” boasts four stages: Innocence, Initiation, Chaos, and Resolution. Having spent most Saturday mornings here for the past few years, I have seen these stages unfold in the lives of patients and families.
During Innocence, youth is not yet weighed down by ideas of tragedy, pain, or death. A young girl with one leg wrapped in a cast embodied this Innocence. No more than eight years old, all she needed was a dollhouse in the bland hospital room. For over an hour, I voiced the part of a damsel in distress while she played the bad guy and the hero. These fairytales filled her day until her doctor came in to check on her.
Suddenly, these fairytales are interrupted by the pain or fear that strips away our Innocence. We become aware of our mortality during Initiation. One morning, I unexpectedly saw Casey, my best friend since childhood, walk through the main entrance with her mother and her sister. Her sister needed an operation as part of her cancer treatment — the first of many. A couple hours later, Casey came back downstairs hugging a pillow pet I remembered from our youth. My supervisor let me sit with her as the fear of loss overwhelmed her.
As Casey was going through Initiation, her sister was going through Chaos. Suddenly cancer upended her life. In this building Chaos is everywhere. It is rushing through the emergency entrance with the red-faced father carrying his sick child, it is in the first cry of newborns as their parents look at them in awe, it is hidden in the monotonous voice announcing, “Code blue, room 3117.”
Unfortunately at Swedish Medical Center, we have ten floors filled with Chaos. Luckily, we also have ten floors filled with doctors, who confront Chaos where it meets Resolution. When worlds crumble, we place our last hope in doctors, and we wish for, even expect, them to create miracles as a god might. But even with ten floors full of doctors, you still can’t get any closer to God than in the small chapel tucked away in a corner of the 1st floor.
Bravely, in that last hope hides the Innocence we had in youth. Innocence survives as faith: faith in ourselves, faith in the future, faith in science, faith in happiness. And sometimes, when all other faith is lost, faith in doctors is all we have. Doctors are tangible manifestations of hope. Fallible and human and imperfect, they are guides we hold onto until they can sort through the chaos and lead us back to our Innocence. Within each doctor, nurse, and patient some type of faith exists. Whether it is in God, spirits, or simply some abstract, intangible power in the Universe, keeping faith in our hearts carries us above the Chaos. It gives patients and families hope, and it gives doctors the will to do the hard work of the day, battling the odds to create order out of chaos.
I want to use my knowledge, training, and compassion to create even the smallest positive change in the course of each patient’s “Journey.” The most impactful thing at Swedish isn’t the Chaos, but rather the traces of Innocence that stay with us forever — innocence in an old couple’s stolen kiss, in two sisters’ secret laughter, and in doctors who take the time to know the junior volunteers. Rather than delaying the inevitable, doctors are preserving these bits of innocence that nourish the youth in the hearts of patients, no matter where they are in their Journey.