14: True Healers

14: True Healers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

True Healers

In the sick room, ten cents’ worth of human understanding equals ten dollars’ worth of medical science.

~Martin H. Fischer

I had always hated hospitals. I didn’t care how colorfully they painted their walls or how cheery their therapy dogs make the patients feel. All I could see was tragedy hidden in every room. Doctors rushing from patient to patient, making their rounds, with clipboards and charts, scribbling away, and then disappearing for the day.

Then my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. He couldn’t find the correct words, could not understand humor or nuance, and lost his sense of taste and smell. He also lost his social filter, and told my neighbor that if her son sped up their driveway one more time, he’d slash his tires. I often had to explain that his remarks were part of his illness. And there was the pain—the constant sensation of burning at the top of his head.

There wasn’t a thing the neurologists could do for him in the hospitals on Long Island where we were living. Friends suggested we contact the brain injury outcome unit at Johns Hopkins, so we did.

We took the train from Stony Brook to Penn Station, and then on to Baltimore. Traveling with a man who has a brain injury brings certain challenges. He dressed like a schoolboy—sneakers and socks pulled almost up to his knees, khaki shorts that were too short, and an untucked polo shirt. His condition left him with the capacity of a seven-year-old boy, which was probably why he was dressing like a seven-year-old boy. “How much longer till we get to ‘John Hoskin’?” he asked repeatedly.

When we arrived at Johns Hopkins, it reminded me of a modern-day Lourdes. People from all over the country, even the world, made their way in wheelchairs, limping, using crutches and braces, bandaged and patched. Each seeking advice from gifted doctors. Each praying for a miracle. Each carrying reports and X-rays and test results. Each with the hope that there was some hope.

Making our way to the sixth floor of one of the nine thousand buildings in the sprawling complex, I saw bodies so broken there were times I selfishly had to look away. Clutching my husband’s medical reports, I had my own fear, my own tragedy, and my own hope for some hope.

In the waiting room, doctors came out from their examination rooms to apologize to patients for any delay. “I can see you in 15 minutes. I am sorry, but I have a patient who requires a bit more of my time.” They crouched down to talk to patients, people, who were sitting in chairs. The doctors looked straight into the faces of their broken bodies. Eye to eye.

“Dr. Dan” came into the waiting area and welcomed us with a warm smile. “Come with me.” I expected the standard 15 minutes usually allotted to patients. Dr. Dan talked with us for an hour before he examined my husband. He spent another hour going through neurological tests and reviewing the records we presented to him. He comforted me so that I could comfort my husband. He covered everything from disability insurance to good places to find the best crab cakes and steaks in Baltimore. “I’m not your cardiologist. Enjoy the steak.” He spent three hours tending to our needs, and then walked us to the person who would schedule a follow-up appointment. He gave us his personal cell number. “Call anytime with any questions.”

With the treatment program prescribed for my husband, he was able to make a full recovery. It took a year, but Dr. Dan was with us through every step, adjusting plans as progress was made.

I look at the medical profession differently now. There are doctors, and there are healers. Gifted human beings who touch and look directly into the stricken, fear-filled faces of the wounded. These exceptional professionals go beyond practicing medicine. They care. And I am convinced their love comforts and heals the sick and injured.

Paint the entire hospital bright yellow. Fill it with beeping machines, wires, and tubes. None of it matters without true human empathy. It is the love of healing, and the ability to recognize the dignity of the whole person, that makes the difference. I believe these special human beings have a divine gift.

We enjoyed the best crab and steak dinner in Baltimore that night. Everything tastes better served with a dash of hope and a bit of love.

~Barbara Joan

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