In preparation for surgery, I was given the predictable reams of paper, including a questionnaire with five simple but probing questions to give the surgical team insight into the patient’s psyche as she consents to anesthesia and surgery.
I am fortunate: My hospitalization is only for a knee replacement, so the odds strongly favor my quality of life being better after I heal than it has been during months of limping around in pain. Maybe that’s the reason these yes-or-no questions caused me to reflect on my outlook in general rather than my view regarding the temporary glitch of the surgery in particular:
▪ Are you a harm to yourself or others?
▪ Do you feel safe at home or in your community?
▪ Do you need help involving neglect or abuse?
▪ Have you ever been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
▪ Have you had any thoughts that life is not worth living?
I answered “no” to all of them, but as I thought about what I was being asked, I realized that there were yeses looming in my mind if I answered the questions honestly — not simply as a future patient, but as an American at this point in history.
If the questionnaire were titled “How are you feeling today?,” my answers might not have been so uniformly serene.
I considered the questions and wondered how many would answer them as American citizens, perhaps unemployed during the COVID crash, as senior citizens worried about the Trump administration threatening Social Security, or as service members — or their loved ones — stunned by a president branding war heroes as dumb “suckers.” Answering as a woman, I certainly feel “neglected and/or abused” by a president who declares, “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Certainly there are reasons to feel “down, depressed, or hopeless.” Most of us have been in some form of quarantine for half a year, with no relief in sight. At best, we are bored and at worst we are unsure of what lies ahead. We see our way of life dismantled by a public health threat as yet unharnessed, personal financial damages that may take years to repair, and a deepening sense that our lifelong belief that we live in the greatest country on earth is threatened by well-earned global disrespect. America is no longer assured of its undisputed and perpetual global position as leader of the free world.
Weighing all of that, we realize we may soon have laid nearly a half-million US victims of COVID-19 to rest in the new year. That certainly changes how we might respond to a hospital in-take questionnaire on the state of our mental health, that asks if we are ever bothered by “feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.”
The racial, philosophical, and economic divide at the core of growing nationwide demonstrations certainly puts a dent in how safe many Americans currently feel “at home or in their community.”
And while I’m not a harm to myself, I do worry about those who are a harm to our democratic institutions, to national policies around immigration, and a justice system that offers little justice to people of color. The final question never merits a “yes” answer from me: I refuse to concede — however tough things are at the moment — “that life is not worth living.”
Rome’s Marcus Tullius Cicero and India’s Mahatma Gandhi are both quoted as saying, “Virtue is its own reward.” In times like these, even when compounded by the personal challenge of major surgery, I respond that resilience is more critical and necessary to survival than virtue.
Whatever apprehension I may feel about my trip to the hospital, I am focused on my recovery and the days that will follow. Crutches or not, I intend to cross that finish line into freedom and national dignity come November when I cast my vote.
Resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges matters more than ever — the questionnaire affirmed that.
Mary Ann Sorrentino is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @Thatmaryann.