This past Wednesday, my grandpa had a tooth pulled at 3:00PM. At 9:00PM, he told me that his gum is still bleeding, and he needs to go to the hospital tonight.
I have been immersed in ancient philosophy this past year, and I remembered just this past week, my Chinese philosophy teacher said,
“If you are a learner of Chinese philosophy, the first effect you should have on the people around you is to be able to calm them down. To do that, YOU need to remain calm in difficult situations.”
Then I reminded myself to calm down, to take some deep breaths, and to speak slowly. I told my grandpa, “Don’t worry, I’ll call an Uber and accompany you to the hospital.”
My mother also wanted to come along, but she was worried and said, “If we go to the hospital emergency room, you’re likely to wait all night. I think all he has to do is bite on some gauze to stop the bleeding.”
At this point, the Uber was almost here, so I said, “Well, grandpa is worried. Going to the hospital can calm his worries. If he is calm, we will be relieved. If he stays worried, how can we be at ease?”
When we arrived, there were lots of people in the waiting room, and the whole environment was rather tense. Many people were complaining that they’ve been waiting for hours. One person who was on a wheelchair even collapsed to the ground after waiting for hours, and nurses had to come and carry her away on a stretcher.
We had no idea how long we’d have to wait, and I could tell both my grandpa and mom were a little anxious. My mom was obviously tired but still pacing around. I told her she could go home first and rest, but she wanted to stay.
My grandpa joked, “I don’t know how long we have to wait, but I’m afraid that I’ll wait many hours just for the doctor to say, ‘Just keep biting on gauze.’”
My mom replied, “Exactly! I think all you need to do is bite on more gauze and the bleeding will stop in a while. I had this problem before too, and that’s what I did to solve it.”
My grandpa replied, “I don’t know. I’ve been biting on gauze this whole time and it still keeps bleeding.”
At this point, I was kind of tired too, and I didn’t know what to say. I remembered this quote from the Dalai Lama:
“Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
Since I was tired, maintaining my calm is about all I could manage. I don’t have the ability to help calm their nervous energy, so the least I can do is to not add to their anxiety. Hence, I remained silent and did some work on my laptop.
At midnight, the nurse finally inspected my grandpa and allowed us to proceed to the next room. I thought that meant he would be seeing a doctor, but it turns out it’s another waiting room! Moreover, only one person could accompany him, so I told my mom to go home first because she is very tired. My body is stronger, so I can handle pulling an all-nighter better than her. She agreed, so I called an Uber to send her home.
Vending Machine Incident
At this point, I was kind of hungry, so I went to the vending machine to buy a snack bar. Guess what happened? I paid for a snack bar, and it got stuck before it could fall to the bottom.
My first thought was, “Are you serious? I already paid for this snack bar and this machine didn’t keep its promise!” I tried shaking the vending machine, but it didn’t work.
Then I thought to myself, “OK, I’ve been doing fairly well maintaining my calm tonight. Don’t let a vending machine break your momentum! I am here to solve my problem of hunger. This snack bar is stuck. Getting angry and leaving is not going to solve my problem. That would make my mood bad and influence my grandpa’s mood. I should buy a second snack bar to solve this problem. It only costs $2. Any problem that a little money can solve is not a real problem. The problem is me demanding this vending machine to keep its previous promise, but this vending machine is not a human being, so my demand is illogical.”
Then I bought the same snack bar again, and two snack bars came out. Problem solved.
Seeing the Doctor
After I returned to the second waiting room, I waited another two hours with my grandpa. While waiting, my grandpa said, “Last time I had a tooth pulled, I stopped my blood thinner medication three days beforehand, and the dentist stitched up the hole after. I don’t know why this time the dentist said I don’t need to stop the blood thinner and did not stitch up the hole after.”
After hearing this, I better understood why he wanted to keep waiting all these hours to see the doctor. He needed to hear a professional tell him, “Don’t worry about the blood thinner. Don’t worry about stitches. You will be fine.”
My grandpa added, “It would be a pretty big waste of time if this doctor says ‘You just need to keep biting on gauze.’”
I replied, “Well, I would be relieved! At least you wouldn’t need to do surgery!”
At 2:00AM, the doctor finally saw my grandpa. My grandpa explained that he got a tooth pulled at 3:00PM, and it’s been bleeding for 11 hours now. He also explained his worries with regards to the blood thinner and lack of stitches.
The doctor had a look inside his mouth, asked which blood thinner he took, and then brought a bunch of gauze over and said, “It’s okay. All you need to do is bite on a lot of gauze really hard. I know it sounds simple, and I know you waited a long time for this, but this really is all you have to do. You are not biting hard enough. Bite harder, and the bleeding should stop within 15–30 minutes. No need for stitches.”
Then we went home. My grandpa said, “Wow, we actually waited 5 hours for 5 minutes with the doctor.”
I replied, “At least you don’t have to do any major operation! We are way more fortunate than most of the other people at the hospital!”
Next Day Reflection
The next day, I told my mom what happened. She said, “I told you guys! All he had to do was put more gauze there and bite.”
I replied, “Yes…but you are not a doctor, and we could not have been 100% sure yesterday night. So even though your guess about the final result was right, waiting 5 hours at the hospital was still the right thing to do because we can’t take any risks when grandpa has been bleeding for hours.”
My mom said, “OK sure, but if you ever get a tooth pulled, you should know what you need to do now. Don’t go to the hospital on a whim. Don’t you remember when you were young and had kidney stones, I took you to the hospital, and we waited all night, and by the time you saw the doctor, you were already fine.”
I felt like my mom was not getting the point, so I explained,
“Yes… but mom, even if the problem got solved before I saw the doctor, we cannot say it was a waste or time or the wrong thing to do. People’s feelings are more important than matters. This time it’s bleeding gums. Next time it will be a different matter.
The problem is not just grandpa’s bleeding gums or my kidneys hurting. The bigger problem is our WORRY about the bleeding gums and kidneys hurting. You do not have the ability to calm that worry. Only a credible doctor can calm those worries. Therefore, waiting all night in the hospital is the right thing to do, and if we understand that it is the right thing to do, we won’t be annoyed by it.”
My mother considered my logic and agreed.
Adversity reveals our moral training. To be calm and kind when things are peaceful is nothing special. To be calm and kind when others are flustered and worried is to be truly cultivated. Since I’ve been studying philosophy all year, I viewed this whole situation as a test of my cultivation. While I can’t say I did a great job calming my grandpa and mom’s worries, I can at least say I did not add to their suffering.
I also reflected on some important lessons from the whole experience:
1. Don’t deny other people’s suffering. Sometimes we think others are exaggerating, so we deny their feelings. That’s not kind. We are not them. We don’t know how they feel. If they tell us they are in pain, then we should believe them and try our test to help. If we cannot help, at least do not belittle them or make them feel worse.
2. Don’t trust vending machines. Just kidding.
3. Don’t fall prey to sunk cost bias (being attached to the past). Just like when I needed a snack, I should not let what happened in the past stop me from solving my problem.
4. Don’t judge yourself based on the outcome of your decision. Judge yourself based on making the right decision.
5. Take care of your health. Going to the hospital is not fun.
6. Although being at the hospital is not fun, it doesn’t have to be terrible either. It’s all about how you view the situation. I remained positive by being grateful that our hospitals are free and that my grandpa did not have a serious problem compared to others.
That’s all for this story. If you have any other lessons, I’d love to hear them. Thanks, and have a great week ahead!