At that moment, standing over his hospital bed from which he derisively mocked about things I said, I could not help but wonder: “Are we as a race so far removed from reason? Are we so numb that we stopped questioning anything that happens to us in life? Are we taking everything for granted, even our health, not for a moment reflecting on it? How could it be that faced with our own mortality, we are not questioning and redefining our whole life…?” Moment before that I practically carried him from the wheelchair to the bed, with him writhing in pain and crying like no one I’ve ever seen before. And now, after he asked me what I’m eating, he laughed. He mocked me. I was grateful for that. I laughed along with him. The absurdity usually causes such a reaction in me…
Prior to 2008, Milica and I were on a standard diet. Meat, milk and dairy products, processed foods, sweets and large amounts of pastry in all forms. You name it… And you could tell that by our appearance. With 90 pounds more, stomach pain, headaches, respiratory problems, liver problems, rashes, eczema, hormonal fluctuations, panic attacks, and so on. The whole package.
That year I worked ancillary jobs in the city hospital in Belgrade. At first, at the urology section, and later for extended period of time, at the hematology wing of hospital. My job mainly consisted of assisting during the transport of patients, certain paperwork, sample and medical materials transportation etc.
At first I was not satisfied that I had to be there. I was not happy. But when I finally got tired of constantly focusing on the negative aspects, I shut the fuck up and stopped whining and started watching. That was a moment when things started becoming clear and took a completely different dimension.
Every day I was in the presence of sick people. People who did not want to suffer, and yet so clearly did. In doing so, I’m not talking about older people. The hospital does not choose the age. From elderly folks, through people in middle age, then young people, teenagers and children; this hospital, like any other, did not discriminate by age. All are equal and all have identical facial expression. Surprise. Disbelief. Anger. Fear…
Witnessing the same scene for many months, set in motion the wheel of consciousness and my thoughts began to transform.
Why do these people have to suffer? What can be done to prevent this?! Where to start?
Then I remembered my childhood’s desire to be a vegan. It came by itself. And I wondered why I never did anything about it. Somewhere along the way, while growing up, I let my desires and habits be shaped by desires, habits and fears of other people, family and acquaintances. At what point did it all become more important than what I want? Things I felt right and righteous in the depths of my being. At what moment did my religion establish itself as me worshiping the deity of public opinion? When was the enthusiasm and innocence while standing in grandma’s garden full of colors, fragrance and blossoming life been replaced by apathy and numbness, consumption and convenience?
The man I saw in the mirror was only a distorted picture of the child, stained with tomato sauce, whom found joy in every homemade corn bread and radish salad. I remembered my bare feet sinking into the wheat grain after harvest and chewing them, because elders told me that if I chew them long enough, they can make chewing gum that is better than any store-bought.
It was enough. I no longer wanted to be somebody else. The assumed version of myself that I don’t even recognize anymore.
The opportunity to be of help to people who are suffering was an amazing experience. More than anything, it taught me that health is not to be taken lightly and I realized that health is not a given. Also, I got the opportunity to be kind and not to aggravate already existing people’s suffering with my ego. The mere opportunity to let go of ego… It had a healing effect. One “thank you” from the person suffering, has the power to make you question your own values.
Slowly, step by step, things have changed in the direction that we did not even know existed. In the period that now seems like another life, Milica and I bought our first water filter, a short time later, during a conversation, in the course of one evening, we decided to completely change our diet. The next day, we gave away all meat, milk and eggs from the fridge and started, as a little child, to learn how to “walk” again. With a limited budget, one thin book about macrobiotics and the Internet forum on the same topic that barely even worked, we clumsily assembled the puzzle and collected all the information we could. In our tiny kitchen, with hand-scrawled recipes in a notebook that was falling apart and was full of inserted pieces of paper, we slowly discovered a new world.
Our pounds were shading off, our skin cleared, digestion got better, breathing got easier, we slept like little babies and for the first time in a while we felt like being alive. The contrast was amazing.
My work at the hospital continued until the autumn of next year.
Conversation with one patient remained in my memory. I helped him during his examinations and helped him to move around, because he was constantly in pain, during which his muscles ached so much that he could not even sit, let alone walk. One morning, before I took him to the biopsy, I found him crying and asking for help. I do not remember all the details and what exactly was his illness, but I remember a few things about him that he told me. He was a taxi driver, divorced, then married for the second time and quite smitten by young nurses. His wife told me that he has a serious case of trichinosis. He did not talk about it.
I had few conversations with him. Pretty talkative person he was. Most of the time he wanted to talk about nurses. In particular, he found interesting the fact I was married at such a young age and that I wanted to be faithful to my wife. Because, by God, “I’m a red-blooded man, and what she sees and knows not could not harm her…”
But at the moment the conversation turned to food and he learned that I do not eat meat, nor drink milk, not even a little, that my diet is based on vegetables, fruits and grains… He found particularly amusing the fact I do not consume alcohol…
He laughed, trying to ridicule me. He said that I eat food for chickens and cattle, that he could never even stand the smell of it. He asked me what kind of man am I, if I do not eat meat…? He posed situations asking me questions like: “What would you do if you found yourself on a deserted island with only chickens and pigs, what would you eat then… Tell me?”
Cheerful guy he was.
I laughed along with him. With all the gratitude of the world for the opportunity to speak with this man. He reminded me of many people in my life who I know or used to know. I was glad that I managed to entertain him. And we laughed together for a quite some time. All ‘till his next examination.