Life can be very difficult and unexpected things can happen which change a person and their family forever. Works of literature have the ability to transform the perspective of the reader and to inform the reader about some of the least pleasant aspects of life. In the essays "What Broke My Father's Heart" and "Patient" the authors Katy Butler and Rachel Riederer put the reader into a position where they understand what it feels like to be vulnerable. Each essay is about a person experiencing a traumatic period in their lives and having to deal with the trauma and how it affects them and the people that they love. In the first story, a young woman tells about her experiences with an ailing father and his caretaker wife. The second is about a young woman who finds herself in the hospital after suffering a horrible injury. Each woman deals with the situation in her own way, unhappily facing reality, and then finally being able to accept the truth and to do what they must to do what is needed. The tone, voice and the atmosphere of the two stories works to When traumatic incidents happen, the first reaction can be to deny what is happening. In the story "What Broke My Father's Heart," a daughter deals with her father's dementia and how his health had diminished his life and her mother's as well. Her father had always been a healthy man, the author tells the reader. This was true for her mother as well. She says, "Things took their first unexpected turn on Nov. 13, 2001, when my father -- then 79, pacemakerless and seemingly healthy -- collapsed on my parents' kitchen floor in Middletown, making burbling sounds. He had suffered a stroke" (Butler). The stroke forever changed the family dynamic within their household. The father was no longer the vibrant personality he had once been and instead was dependent upon his family to take care of him. "Patient" is a first-person narrative about a young woman who has been run over by a bus. One of the most important parts of this essay is the woman's initial denial of her own injury. Instead of feeling pain, the narrator is instead controlled by her brain which has numbed her both to the feeling and to the reality of her situation. Repeatedly the narrator says that this cannot be happening to her because things like this do not happen in real life and if they do, then they do not happen to people like her. She says, "It does not happen in real life, certainly not to me" (Riederer 154). The reader can relate to this feeing because there have been times in everyone's life where something bad was happening, something so unreal that they had a hard time believing it was true. The language choice that Riederer makes in this passage brings out that memory in the reader, making the narrator's experience seem all the more real.
After realizing the truth of their positions, both the families have to deal with the false perceptions of the people in need of medical care. For the daughter in "What Broke My Father's Heart," she has to watch as her father resolutely refuses to admit that he is not the person that he once was. After the mother has taken the father to the bathroom, she would "lead him tottering to the couch, where he would sit mutely for hours, pretending to read Joyce Carol Oates" (Butler). The old man, who cannot do much by himself, still holds onto the false belief that he is in control, as indicated by his pretending to read. It is not just for himself, but a show for those around him that he is capable despite the impressions they might have. He does not want to admit how much help he needs and pretending to read the book is his form of rebellion. In "Patient," the author uses the first-person narrator to show the many stages that a person goes through when they have a traumatic incident. Quickly, the attitude of the narrator changes from disbelief to anger and a feeling of victimization. For example, the narrator says that she believes the nurse is a liar who claims to have given her morphine. She says, "The sadistic nurse touches my ankle and says it is broken…She is wrong. If broken ankles felt like this, people would not have them so often" (Riederer 155). This narrator has cast her nurse in a villainous light not because of anything the nurse has done but because of her anger and pain. Not only this, but she believes that she must have more damage than the medical professional is claiming because she has become aware of her feelings and they have now overridden her ability to use logic or reason. This is compared to the other nurse who gives her a shot to numb her pain. Unlike the other "sadistic" nurse, the one with the needle is called an "angel." The reader knows that neither nurse is either of these things, but that the situation has put the narrator into a mental state where she only sees her caregivers in black and white terms and has cast them each in a role. Her trauma has controlled how she sees the world and the reader is not meant to take her characterizations as accurate.
Self-pity and despondency are common when people are chronically, seriously, or terminally ill. They will have the feeling that it would be best for them to give up on life and even the family around them might have these same kinds of feelings. In the case of the mother and daughter in "What Broke My Father's Heart," author Butler quotes Anton Chekov who wrote, "Whenever there is someone in a family who has long been ill, and hopelessly ill…there come painful moments when all timidly, secretly at the bottom of their hearts long for his death" and comes to the conclusion that this is also how she feels about her father. The reason for this is that they want him to be out of pain but also because the quality of his life has decreased so much that he is barely alive as it is. The father also comes to pity himself and his lot in life. This self-pity is evident later on in the story when the author says her father had decided it would be better if he were dead. His wife "[would] have weeped the weep of a widow…And then she would have been all right" (Butler). The man no longer feels like a viable or worthy person and instead sees himself only as a source of burden for the people that he loves. This depression and feeling of unworthiness is common in people like him with serious mental conditions. This sense of desperation is also seen in "Patient." Finally, the patient in Riederer's piece gives in to self-pity wherein she imagines the repercussions of a surgery. The narrator says, "If my leg is amputated, I will never fall in love and get married. I will either be a bitter, one-legged old maid or else I will have to troll around on the Internet and join some sort of online group for fetishists of lopsidedness and half limbs" (Riederer 156). The reader has now seen three distinct psychological viewpoints of the narrator and has made the mental journey with her. She has gone from disbelief to anger to self-pity all in a very short span of time. Later on, after she has been in the hospital for some weeks the narrator has descended into a place where she doubts the existence of God and cannot empathize when her father reminds her how much worse things could be. Although she does not say it out loud, the narrator thinks, "You will be tempted to shout at them that if God planned for you to get run over by a bus, then he is at best a poor plan-maker or, more likely, a sadist" (Riederer 161). The reader understands what she is going through in each of these stages as is asked to sympathize as they themselves reflect on times of severe trauma in their own lives.
In spite of how terrible illness and injury can be, for many people the difference between a positive and negative outlook can be synonymous with the presence or neglect of family and friends. When a person has someone to care for them, there is a huge difference between levels of suffering. In "What Broke My Father's Heart," the narrator's mother asked her to deactivate her father's pacemaker so that he could slowly die and relieve them both from the horrors of their living conditions. Unable to do so because of moral ambiguity and legal uncertainty, her father had to keep living long after his body has ceased to function. When he died, his family was around him.…