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A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that focused on the difference between healing and curing. Hubby Dear gave his approval and stated readers would surely be affected positively.
While I believe the column offered an accurate assessment, it is also likely I was whistling in my personal darkness so I would not be afraid.
I did not want to be drawn into the fearful bleakness that might bring pain in its wake. I did not want to be dragged into the catacombs of medicine where call bells are pushed, promises are made and waiting for results is inevitable.
It was at this time that I read Beacon editor Stacey Manning’s editorial column with a certain interest and a desire to affirm her feelings. If this were not sufficient motivation, I received a note from one of the nurses that focused on a belief she held before her as she did her rounds.
She quoted Thornton Wilder who wrote: “Without your wounds where would your power be? The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken in the wheels of living. In love’s service, only the wounded soldiers can serve.”
Stacey commented accurately on the broken wheels of the medical practice. Like her, I do not offer criticism of any particular individual or service, but I do want to clarify the often scandalous manner in which patients are treated. Those are the times when patients insidiously become room numbers, as in “I’m with 139,” rather than human beings who are hurting with pain they cannot control or sometimes describe.
Too often, a call bell is pushed, an anonymous voice asks about the need being requested and promises to let the nurse know. The patient tries to relax with whatever need had been presented and enters the waiting room. Wait for the promise to be heard and the need to be heeded. Wait with a writhing body that only understands its own hurt. Wait in trust and faith that someone will come. Someone will take the chance of staying a few moments to be present to a person who feels trapped in loneliness.
No one responds. Try calling for help again. The pattern has been established. Beg for help. Listen for a response that is more than “I’ll let your nurse know.” Settle back and wait. With desperation, the patient begins to find reasons, if not excuses, for the continued delay.
There is also a growing fear the squeaky wheel will not get oiled, only ignored. At the same time, I have to believe Stacey was accurate in her statement that each of us must fight our own battle against the various bureaucracies that dominate our life. We cannot rely on anyone else to do it for us.
This, too, is part and parcel of the healing process. It brings to the forefront a reality that we cannot ignore. We are both powerless and powerful. It is our wounds that empower us. They ground us in a reality only those who enter their suffering can understand. They give us a basis for compassion and help us to realize no one can comprehend what they have not experienced.
It was during a bedside procedure that I screamed my belief. While no one was to blame that a nerve had been compromised, I screamed at Hubby Dear who was trying so hard to console me yet used the wrong words to do so.
In his efforts to give solace, he said, “It’s OK.” I shouted my response. “You haven’t got the foggiest notion. I feel like I’m being electrocuted without death as a result. It’s just an excruciating dying that is endless!”
Later on, when the pain had been relegated to a back-burner reality I’d remember and narrate the episode in stories for others. For the present moment its positive effect would be found in Wilder’s belief—and mine, as well—that only wounded soldiers can serve in love’s service.
Wounded soldiers return from battle as proof that life continues in the midst of death-dealing experiences. Wounded soldiers are themselves healers. They understand pain in myriad ways. They are understanding, as Corita Kent described it. To understand is to stand under the other, offering a solid ground on which to build compassion.
I can recall many instances in my younger days when people told me they felt embarrassed to talk about their ills in the face of all that I was enduring. My response to them then is identical to what I offer today. “Your headache is your headache.” I am sure I was not fully aware of my words. I did know somehow I needed to enter the world of my personal pain so I might realize its power and share that potency with others.
Indeed, healing and curing take a great deal of time, energy and courage. We humans are privileged to be bearers of those gifts. We can offer others our presence as wounded soldiers. We can give them time to vent and recuperate with our personal spirituality, not simply pious platitudes that erode the power of pain. We can share our individual cache of courage, our willed response to all that might keep us from tasting the depth of life.
My initial column on healing and curing was typed from a laptop computer residing on a pillow strategically placed on my hospital tabletop. This one has found the same starting point. I am eternally grateful for the wireless access offered by the hospital so I can continue “soldiering on,” broken in the wheels of living so that others will not see pain negatively.
I join Stacey in her empowerment of others as she asks us not to give up. “Keep calling and asking questions like your life depended on it. Some day it may.”