This past week has been stressful at work. One of my co-workers is going through a tough time, tough enough that it has impacted her ability to work. It has been hard watching her struggle and trying to be there for her even when there really is nothing I can do to make the situation any better or easier for her. As always, there have those among us who have been sympathetic and others, not so much. I am definitely on the sympathetic side, because her chronic pain is at the root of her difficulties and I cannot look at her without thinking, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I also have a patient right now who breaks my heart. He and his wife just lost her son to pancreatic cancer a couple of months ago. My patient was his primary caretaker, driving him to his chemo and doctor appointments, taking care of him during those last days… and now my patient has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That kind of thing can be enough to make you question God or karma or the universe or whatever higher power you believe in. He has remained very positive, despite how crappy he is feeling from his own chemo and radiation. Mostly what I do is touch him – ease his back pain, work gently on his trigger points. His wife is afraid she’ll break him; he is so skinny now. The other day, after I’d worked on him, I got some heat on his back and he fell asleep. He hasn’t been able to sleep much, and I had another patient waiting, but… I let him sleep for a while. He thanked me when I felt like I should be thanking him.
Another patient later that day was talking about his time in Vietnam. He has three Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars as well as numerous other citations and commendations. He proudly wears vividly colored military tattoos on his arms. He is grizzled and gruff. But then he said, “I can’t wait until Viriginia changes the law.” I waited, not sure what law he was talking about. He continued, “Then my daughter will be able to get married. I’ll get a new daughter-in-law!”
I have no idea if he said so because he guesses that I’m a lesbian (it’s not that hard), or if he would have made that comment to anyone. It sparked a lively conversation between us about marriage equality, though I stopped short of discussing my private life with him. That’s a line I don’t cross often.
But right now, as I sit and ponder this past week, I’m feeling incredibly blessed – that when terrible misfortune threatens to drown us, small mercies make us realize that God is still with us. That from the most unlikely people can come the most uplifting gestures and comments.
I hope each of you gets to experience that in your own life, too.