Written by Tennova Chaplain Dan Hix 11/9/17, shared with his permission
“A Little Healing All-Around
For a long time I have known this work is filled with sacred moments; moments which on the surface might appear to be ordinary, but upon some reflection, awe wraps them around. I suppose it should not be a surprise. After all, not to be overly dramatic, but a place like a hospital is thick with ultimate experiences. It is worth the effort to pay attention.
I was paged to ICU. There was a code and the patient did not survive. And now we were waiting; waiting for the family, specifically, a daughter. A daughter who would be coming along to hear the news and sign some papers and begin to try to deal with the great emptiness of the absence of the one who had been there from her first breath. There is something about the death of a mother. I had waited like this many times before.
But this wait was going to be different. They are all unique, but this one was different in a way I think I will always remember and could never have expected. For one thing, I was not going to be waiting alone. This time it was not going to be a nurse and me facing the grim task. This time there was a doctor who was committed to staying; a man who wanted to be there; touched deeply by this death; the death of more than a patient; the death of a friend; a woman he treated for decades; a family he knew well. This time something unusual was in the process of happening. The doctor wanted to be there, not because he had anything left to offer clinically, but because a relationship demanded it, pushed him; as if called to this moment. And as we waited, we talked. We talked about the state of healthcare. We talked about the patient. He shared some memories of her husband. And when I started the obvious; something about how gratifying it must be to have that kind of long personal connection with patients, he acknowledged that was true. But then, after a few moments of silence, he steered the conversation into another sacred and difficult place. “But who is to say,” he shared with a tone of world-weariness, “Who is to say the young guys just starting; the young men and women who say there is more to my life than medicine; don’t expect me to give up my weekends or my evenings with my family. I will treat my patients in the office, but I will not make hospital rounds. Or, I will see hospitalized patients for certain shifts and have no private practice. Who is to say they are not right? At least they will be around to see their children grow up.” And there it hung; a moment, it seemed, filled with all the compromises, the painful, regret-filled decisions, the sacrifices, the damage was done while trying to do good; the good done at great cost; the honest confession not one of us does this complicated work perfectly. Most of the time we are doing the best we can.
The daughter arrived and struggled as anyone would. The feelings, more than I can name, tumbled out; grief for the moment, mostly pain-filled love. And I had the privilege of observing the best kind of pastoral exchange. A family doctor living out the other dimensions of what it means to be a healer. A family doctor having a conversation; a conversation flowing from years of professional training and experience, from years of friendship, and lessons learned through his pain. I witnessed something so rare; something I am afraid will only become rarer in the future; a real connection between a healer and a wounded fellow traveler. He made sure she knew what a great job she did with her mom. He shared as best he could what he thought happened clinically. But I doubt that this daughter will remember any of that kind of information. It was the hug; the personal stories about her mom and dad; it was helping her anticipate some of the emptiness she would feel in days ahead; it was his unhurried commitment to stay as long as she needed him to stay. I am guessing that is what she will remember. And I will too. I hope I always remember to be grateful for the reminder of what a gift it is to be invited to walk alongside; thankful for the reminder something begins to heal in us when we put in the work of vulnerability; when we take the risk of connecting with another’s brokenness.
If I could have given him a gift that morning, this physician; if he would have received it; if he even needed it. If I could offer him a gift, as presumptuous as it sounds, it would be something I would want to feel like redemption. I do not mean to be so naïve as to suggest those few minutes of healing I had witnessed could make up for all the uncertainty and honest soul searching I thought I heard in his reflection a few minutes earlier; that somehow, as if by magic, all of that sacrifice, both his and those he loved, he seemed to hint at was suddenly transformed. That would be too easy, somehow disrespectful of the complicated and important journey bringing him to that morning. But I do think, at least in a small way, something good bore fruit; sacred communion in the ruggedness of everyday life; a piece of momentum toward redemption; and we were blessed, and I trust, a little more whole for having shared it.”
Chaplain Dan Hix