It was there that they laid. Draped in river-washed white, urine pot beneath the bed, mortar & pestle on the chipped wooden bedside table waiting for the next round of healing spices. It was there they laid, waiting. Gathered in droves as the winter fell upon the coutryside, they waited—a gymnasium full of them. Fires back at home would be lit, presents exchanged, maple candies passed around to runny-nosed youngsters. And soon enough, green would burst forth from the branches welcoming spring. Aside from the goodbye’s, the beds left empty after passing, more would be watiting.
An old woman who couldn’t breathe. A young boy covered in red spots. A farmer husband healing from the snake bite. Beds cozied. Air shared. Lives opened.
As the nurses made their rounds, a dry cloth wiped hands between patients. And old cone stethoscope from the fraying leathered bag of old Doctor touched the old woman, then the boy, then the farmer husband—without second thought, without caution.
She complained to me. The young brown haired woman next to her snored. And her machine beeped. And the nurse from the night shift was too hurried to fetch the ice cream she’d requested.
My questioning was distracting her from her talk show—as early morning coffee cups were filled & young, attractive anchors told us about Michael Jackson’s death & the mourners expected to flock to his funeral.
I pushed the gray button & a mountain of foam squirted onto my hand. I waved both hands in the air to dry the sanitizing mountain that had found its way to the paper cut on my pinkie finger. A sterile alcohol swab was pulled from my left coat pocket, ripped open to clean my red Littman stethoscope.
Moving aside the blue checkered gown that covered her chest, I found a strong rhythm just underneath the ribcage. LIFE. Lungs clear. Bowel sounds present. Reflexes intact. Labs normal. Imaging pending. And a smile.
She understood. Understood that I’d be back tomorrow morning. Understood that her nurses were one button-push-away. Understood that her diagnosis was still unknown. Understood that we’d take more pictures, gather more samples, draw more blood, do more tests.
And she understood that we were trying.
Yet, she was impatient. It had been FIVE WHOLE DAYS waiting in the hospital, listening to her young brown haired roommate snore, hearing the beeps of her machines match the ticks of the clock.
I bid goodbye. My gloves came off. My blue mask was thrown away. My white sterile gown was balled up & tossed in a receptacle outside her doorway. I glanced back to wave.
As I said goodbye, I couldn’t help but them of them…waiting. Waiting for Winter to turn to Spring, Spring to Summer. Waiting for the old woman who couldn’t breathe to abandon her bed for another grand Life. Waiting for the young boy’s spots to disappear. Waiting for the farmer husband’s bite to heal. Waiting. Waiting alongside the coughing man, the infected wound, the burned foot. Waiting for the healing spices, the cone stethoscope, the nurse with the white wiping cloth.
Waiting for a miracle.
Dare I say that we’ve lost something? Dare I boast that the “old medicine” was richer, more life-changing than what we practice now? Dare I wish that the art, the trust, the lessons that floated through those hospital corridors might still somewhere be contained in the plastered walls of our “new medicine”?
Because often do we find the cure. Often do we expedite healing. Often do we remove the tumor, infuse the medicine, shock the heart, deliver the baby, save the life. Often do we smile when we remove our masks, our gloves, our gowns, our sterile drapes; often do we grin when we pull the privacy curtains, unclog the lemon-scented toilet, & find funding for 50 new private rooms.
But seldom do we take the time to appreciate the pictures just taken of what lies inside us. Seldom do we take the time to thank the scowl-faced woman who just made our toilet lemon-scented. Seldom do we think of the miraculous dawn of the antibiotic era—the billions of lives saved because of one petre discovery. Seldom do we recognize the miracle of life growing inside the woman, the miracle of beeping machinery tracking the heart’s electric impulses, the miracle of the opportunity to get to know a roommate—to share in the healing process.
Seldom do we recognize our bodies for what they have been created to be: intricately designed machines readied & willing to fight at the first invasion of foreign antibodies, standing by for neuron repair after an unexpected injury. Seldom do we appreciate that inside us lies a force perfectly equipped to heal the wound, handle the burden, mend the broken bone.
Seldom do we give our God-given bodies enough credit.
Yes, I say. Yes. We’ve lost something...& in the meantime lost the will to give the Giver of Life enough credit for his miraculously meticulous creation: us.