Everything I know about triage I learned watching M*A*S*H. I think it was my father who actually put words to what I was seeing on screen, explaining why one soldier got attention sooner than another, which led to conversations about why some wounds sent you home, while others were to be endured for the remainder of your tour.
Considering my love of organizing, it’s not surprising that part of me really likes the rules of triage. A clear and definable method for making difficult decisions is not only appealing, but useful. In work: when projects pile up and it’s clear all of them can’t be done well and on time, one of them has to go – white tag. In our family finances: when there’s too much month at the end of the money, the unpaid bill that results in the most serious consequences is always paid first – red tag.
For too long, I also applied the rules of triage to my husband’s mental health. He’s battled depression his entire adult life, but the side effects were just an inconvenience (i.e. something to be endured), only occasionally bringing our life to a halt (or so I thought). So he got a green tag – his wounds identified, but not serious enough to move him to the top of the list. He was one of the walking wounded.
Even when his tag changed to yellow, we still left him in the queue, because there were bigger bleeders (or so we thought). We didn’t have enough money. We’re a one car family, with young children, so we never had the time or a baby sitter or transportation . . . I could go on, but I won’t. So on he went, wearing his yellow tag, while spending most of his days in bed or on the couch.
We never would have ignored cancer the way we tried to ignore depression. Hell, I harassed him more about keeping his dental appointments than I did about managing his antidepressants. Then, last week, my husband finally received his red tag. The pain became too much. Our life came to a halt. The rules of triage were applied and the decision was made for us.
I could write a dozen other paragraphs about the gift of that decision and how good it feels to finally let go, but will leave that for another day. There’s so much to process right now that self reflection is getting a green tag … at least for today.