Our mission is to “support the health, healing and learning of those we serve.”
Shirley, a 79 year old patient at Methodist Hospital taught me the meaning of “healing” on a Saturday many years ago. On that particular weekend, I drove to the hospital resentful and feeling sorry for myself for being on call and missing family activities.
As her physician for the past few years, I recalled her history as I perused her chart outside the room. I remember her daughter committed suicide earlier in the year. Sometime after the suicide, Shirley underwent a hip replacement complicated by multiple admissions for dislocation of the prosthesis. She had a history of an artificial aortic valve and recently developed acute endocarditis of the valve seeding the prosthetic hip with an infection. During the current admission, the hip was splayed open enabling drainage and antibiotic irrigation of the hip as she received intravenous antibiotics to calm the heart valve infection. Her only chance for survival involved risky replacements of the infected valve and later the hip. I knew I needed to talk with her about the value replacement. Given her condition, the surgery carried grave risk, but without surgery, she had little chance of leaving the hospital.
As I walked into the room, I saw she was covered with blisters, most likely a reaction to the antibiotics. She whispered one sentence: “I feel like Job.”
I held her hand and cried with her about the events of the last few months. My self- pity about being on weekend call evaporated. We talked about replacing the valve and the hip and she stated calmly she wanted to live despite her suffering.
Shirley taught me that healing is not the equivalent of cure. Healing occurs when we acknowledge life as it is and exercise personal choices in the face of reality. Healing may occur with the dying process. Healing may result from grieving.
On that Saturday in Shirley’s’ room two human beings healed.
Shirley survived the surgery and, after a multi-month hospitalization, went to a nursing home. After several months of convalescence, she returned home with a full-time live- in aide. In the ensuing years, I saw her frequently in the office. Each visit, her courage healed me.
Health care is a sacred opportunity to learn from others struggling to find meaning and exercise choice in the face of suffering. Our work enables each of us to heal as we support the healing of those we serve.
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