Recently my work has required me to attend meetings held inside of one of the local hospitals. We sit around a typical conference table in a conference room that would otherwise be typical were it not for the fact that it is contained within a building that also holds gurneys and monitors and people in surgical scrubs.
Sure—once in the room, you would never know; but to get to that room you go past a reception desk, down a hall, around and past doctors and nurses and an occasional patient. You pretty much can’t miss the fact that you’re in a hospital. Which is no big deal except that (as you may recall) I spent so much time in hospital beds a couple of years ago.
I won’t rehash it all here, but in the Fall of 2010 I was hospitalized four times in three months—in three different hospitals for three separate conditions. I’m fine now, but I surely wasn’t then. I felt pain like never before while suffering a full range of personal indignities and traumas. Words like awful and horrific don’t begin to capture the nature of my physical plight. Not only would I never wish to relive those three months, I wouldn’t want to even pay them a brief visit.
In other words, I’m not the sort of person who could ever again look upon a hospital dispassionately.
So imagine my surprise last month when the sliding doors parted and I made my way past the receptionist and headed down that antiseptic hallway toward the conference room: Rather than feeling uneasy or nervous or sick to my stomach (rational alternatives, for sure) I felt oddly instead as if I were coming home. Even as it was happening, I was thinking, “OK, this is really weird.”
It has given me pause, as we say. Looooooong pause. Even as I write you this letter, I think back on my 90-day ordeal with bemusement as I recognize that I can laugh and joke about the pain and the scars and the multi-syllabic diagnoses while feeling tender emotions about everything else. I’ve said before that God shows His hand in the midst of our trials, but I think there’s something more at play here. And I think it has something to do with moments like this:
There was a day during my second hospitalization—this one an emergency, 10-day stay in a remote community hospital. I spent most of that stay with a tube up my nose and an IV (dinner!) in my arm. As the days (and pounds) slipped away, I became increasingly aware of an unpleasant stench that I couldn’t escape. On this particular day, an older nurse’s aide entered my room—a Polynesian woman who gently, wordlessly lifted one arm, then the next, as with warm soap and water she bathed my rancid body. With tenderness she scrubbed my shoulders and crusty face, changed my gown and sheets. The kindness embodied by that gentle act renewed my spirits and moved me to tears.
I was cared for by dozens of wonderful, angelic nurses and aides during the Fall of 2010, blessed women and men who did so much for me that I couldn’t do for myself. They changed my socks and emptied my bedpans and checked my vitals and brought me medications. They were among the kindest, sweetest people I have known. Although I can still recall many of their faces, today I can remember only one by name: a matronly Polynesian woman who without being asked and without a word washed me clean. Because of her and those like her, a hospital now feels to me like holy ground.
Her name was Faye. God bless her and all she represents.