As I walked up the steps to my favorite pub, I exhaled long and steady, relieving myself of complicated work day stress. It was raining sideways, the wind whipping at my neck as I approached the door. I couldn’t wait to get inside where I knew it was warm, where I knew I’d see a familiar face, and where I could decompress before heading home for the night. I tugged on the door handle hard, knowing the heavy wood would be stuck to the jamb as it usually was. I smiled at the thought of tiny comforts of reliability.
The room was empty except for a few regulars who might have had the same idea: decompression and solace in a warm familiar room. I recognized almost everyone there though I couldn’t say the names if someone asked. I hung up my jacket and took a seat. My favorite bartender was busy with a customer. A traditional Scottish tune filled the air.
I love this place.
I sat waiting for the ‘tender to notice me. He knows what I like. As I waited for my beer, I picked up my phone to look up a recipe. I had to cook for a party the next day. I’m no Betty Crocker. I need help.
My battery was nearly dead. I looked around the room. Every single person had their head down, looking at their phone. Sadness crept over me and I put my Droid face down on the bar. I didn’t want it looking at me.
I hate this thing. I hate that everyone is looking at their phones right now and not interacting. I’m such a hater right now. What’s up?
I had some underlying despair. I knew it. I had felt it earlier in the day and had stuffed it away to get through the day. One of my patients was tired of the fight in a battle she knew she wasn’t going to win. I’d cared for her for over a year as she moved in and out of the hospital, 300 miles away from her family. Her caregivers and nurses became her surrogate. I’d looked her in the eye and saw her fear and sadness. I’d held her hand when she was afraid and frustrated. I had been humbled by her apologies for the workload she seemed to think she gave us. I made every attempt to be present for her as she waxed and waned through her cancer treatment.
On our unit, there are no people sitting around looking at their cell phones. They know time is limited, precious. Wasting time looking at an electronic device is asinine. But we all do it.
I pondered what to do about it. I thought about getting rid of the smart phone and just getting a plain old flip phone.
But the music and photography are things that heal me. I need them.
I thought about deleting my FB account.
But it keeps me in touch with my family and friends whom I rarely get to see.
I pondered taking a break from social media. I admitted to myself that it’s a love/hate relationship that I might not be able to get out of.
I looked around the room again. Still, everyone had their heads down, personalities being charged by their phone’s glowing faces. Conversation was starting to brew: people talking about the Timbers, sharing videos and memories, talking about kids, and sharing pictures. Perhaps having these devices at our disposal isn’t a bad thing? They do give us something to talk about and help us get to know one another…if we don’t use it as a filler or replacement for conversation. I’ve done it. It’s too convenient.
And potentially destructive.
As I sat there sipping the foam off my Guinness, telling loneliness to go fuck itself, I vowed to try harder to use less texting, less social media, to communicate.
Make a phone call.
Talk to a face.
I need it too.
As in the case of my patient, whom I have to say goodbye to this week: time is precious and limited. We don’t know how long we’ve got.
We need to make it count.