After two days of a week long hospital stay, I would look up with some apprehension as the shift changed. A few times during that week I was met by the eager smile of a nurse who was present and communicated her desire to help me. But, too often, whether morning or evening, I was met by the guarded demeanor of a nurse too tired or disillusioned to do more than be medically efficient.
But in fifteen shifts, I will remember two special ladies. I will never forget the cheerful, confident nurse who invited my son to sneak in my very own “therapy dog,” Samwise, when I most needed a taste of home.
And I will remember the special gift of a young nurse I will call Nina. Nina appeared to be among the second group of nurses, unwilling or unable to bring much of herself into her job. She was a night nurse, and said very little as she hooked another round of antibiotics to my IV and began to get me settled for bed. I sighed and resigned myself to another isolated shift. Not until she sent the pain medicine surging through my IV, did I begin to recognize the quality of caregiver hidden inside this stoic exterior. My pain medicine was consistently administered directly into the IV in my hand. I would brace myself every four hours because it burned as it went in. But not this time. When Nina administered it, she would give me a very small dose, and then wait, and then give me a little bit more. The process took twice as long, but my hand did not burn at all.
Half-way through I realized what she was doing, and I looked up and exclaimed, “You’ve learned to make this part painless. Thank you!” The guard slipped, and a lovely smile appeared on that still face. “Yes” was her only verbal response, but the world between us took on a space of peace.
Nina was a busy nurse, and I, a pleasant but rather demanding patient. She would make clear what she could and could not do, and would keep her word. But in the evenings when I stretched out my hand, I was confident that a compassionate soul was caring for me in my vulnerability. I encountered a healing deeper than the action itself. She saw me, and I knew she cared.
Weeks later I think about Nina and my own interactions with the vulnerable people I encounter. Do I take the time to offer whatever medicine for the soul I have to give with kindness and patience, without any guarantee that it will be recognized as such? Do I treat the vulnerable with the same care that my quiet nurse extended to me? Such healing skill requires empathy, the ability to put myself in the other’s place and act toward them as I would want them to act toward me. Such small things speak very loudly…especially in moments of vulnerability.
And I again marvel at Jesus’ words…”so whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (Matthew 7:12), hearing them resound in the walls of a hospital room and whisper through my veins.
Christ of compassion, be present in me in the small things, in silent action,
that I may become we, through you, oh, incarnate Lord of empathy.