Betadine, hand sanitizer and latex with undertones of stale urine and sweat. The aroma of sickness. The smell of the hospital. Even with my scent- challenged- since I had a nose-job- nose- it invades. And, I hate it. I also hate the noise: stifled weeping, strangled breathing, hushed talking- all accented by the whirr and beep of machines that ventilate, monitor and hydrate. I hate the darkened doorways and overly bright hallways. Walking from one to the other has an almost strobe-like effect, almost always resulting in a migraine. Or maybe it’s the stress of seeing people I care about sick and in pain that causes my inevitable after the hospital visit- headache. It could be both. Did I mention I’m not a fan of hospitals? Yeah. I mean it.
I hate hospitals.
Recently, I spent some time at a hospital, again. And I realized something…..It’s not the hospital I hate so much….Doctor’s and nurses are caring people- and I like caring people for pete’s sake. And I (usually) like the people I’m there to see……
What I hate, is feeling helpless. I’d rather be “a helper.” When something goes wrong- I’m like a second grader asked to help the teacher. I love it. I love to problem solve. Got a sickness? I’ll look up the protocol for treatment. Afraid of the doctor? I’ll go with you. Headache? Here’s an Ibuprofen. I’ll pray for you- too. But-I love to find creative ways to accomplish goals. I am task oriented- I love to produce. From meals, to laundry, to do lists and knitting …..I’m all about product. I hate video games (Most games, actually) because they’re a waste of time.. You don’t have anything when you’re done. I’d rather: make something, do something, clean something. Anything. The thing is….
Hospitals are places where I can’t produce anything. Except maybe- annoyingly loud noise. (Not usually appreciated in a hospital setting. Just saying.) I think the noise is my verbal attempt to “do something.” Anything. To help. Even when I can’t. Which- during that recent time with a loved one? I couldn’t do. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t make it better. I couldn’t problem solve.
I was just: there. (And- yes- I was annoyingly loud.)
But- having been the one in a hospital bed before………sick and in pain- well and sitting near someone not well- in fear. I know this: even when you can’t DO anything to help- BEING there, matters.
Even when you think they don’t know.
Even when you think they can’t hear.
Even when you’re annoyingly loud- or awkwardly quiet.
Even when you think it’s too late and there’s nothing left to Do….being there- matters.
Being there- is doing something. It is a gift.
Presence- is a gift. A holy gift. A gospel gift. It matters. To the sick- and to his maker……
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The hungry. The impoverished. the sick and imprisoned……how we love them- matters.
More than we know.
Hate hospitals? Go anyway. Fear the homeless? Offer a kind word. Just acknowledge that they exist. How bout the imprisoned? Visit. Maybe even those who’ve imprisoned themselves…. in fear. in isolation. In pain. Visit.
Today I offer a challenge- if you know someone who’s sick- whether long term or not- reach out to them. Offer your presence. You don’t have to have answers or fix anything… just be there.