Every time someone in my family has faced a health crisis, I’m reminded of how wonderful human beings really are. A friend said to me recently that she hated it when people told her she was in their thoughts and prayers because she was certain that very few people really did pray for you or think much about you when they said it. She placed the comment in the same category as the greeting, “How are you?” to which we are obligated to respond, “I’m fine. How are you?”
But when I had Stage 3 breast cancer (nine years ago this month), I thought a lot about that very comment, and I figured that if only some of those people actually did pray for me, then I was certainly the stronger for it. And people I had considered only acquaintances cared for me in wonderful ways. One woman sent me a card almost every week during the entire nine months I was undergoing therapy. My colleagues took turns bringing meals to our home for the eight weeks I was on leave after the surgery. My students made up a basket of their favorite books and games and snacks. My four doctors, all women except for the plastic surgeon, learned to read the look on my face and know when they needed to stop and spend a little more time listening to me. And when I asked the oncologist’s nurse how she could stand to work every day with cancer patients, many of whom died, she told me that she loved talking with these people who had learned what was truly important in life.
This week I’ve been reminded again of how we are made strong in our weakness–how we see the face of God in the people who take care of us. My husband–the love of my life–had surgery on a lumbar disc yesterday, and the surgery turned out to be a little more complicated than we thought. Again, friends and acquaintances rallied, texting and sending Facebook messages and letting us know in a hundred little ways that we are not alone.
And while our healthcare providers were all professional and attentive, one nurse at Georgetown University Hospital won our hearts and our hearty thanks. We had seen the hospital’s commercials that advertised it as “the magnet nurses’ hospital,” but we had never thought twice about what that meant. But when my husband was moved to the neuro wing, Sarah Belden greeted us with efficiency and smiles, despite the fact that every bed was filled, some with patients who were demanding and difficult. I watched her sprint from one room to another, but every time she approached my husband’s bed, she slowed her steps and gave him careful attention. She apologized when she caused him pain and asked repeatedly if she could do anything for him. She engaged him in conversation and laughed at his jokes borne of the fog of anesthesia and a quirky sense of humor.
So when he was released from the hospital earlier today, and we learned as she was filling out the paperwork that she was only 23 years old, I was also reminded of how many of us set out to make a difference in the world. And then far too many of us go into our professions and let the unpleasant people and the cynics jade us. Or we get so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the world’s need that we let our work drain us and forget to enjoy life.
And so, Sarah Belden, thank you for your bubbly cheerfulness and your kind care. You have reminded me, yet again, that human beings are wonderful and that the face of God shines upon us even in the dark places.