Let Your Patients Teach You

Let your patients teach you.It would be impossible for me to tell you all that I’ve seen over 30 years as a chaplain and have you believe one-third of it. Not unless you’ve worked in an acute care hospital setting yourself.

From trauma rooms to waiting rooms outside of emergency departments and intensive care units, to psychiatric and chemical dependency units, and back around to bone marrow transplant, there is enough ill in this world to make the heart-sick.

The evils that human beings can visit upon one another, upon themselves and the suffering ills that this broken down world can visit upon us all simply can’t be described, they can only be known first hand.

Yet when people ask me how in the world I could be a hospital chaplain- “Isn’t it depressing?” they often ask , I respond with an unhesitating “No.”

One reason is that for as much sorrow and suffering as I have seen, I have also seen courage, strength, faith and hope enough to power a small country.

I was lucky early on to be taught one simple rule of caring. “Let your patients teach you, Mark. You’ll be surprised by what you might learn.”

So instead of burning out I began to open up.

The patients and families I visited taught me that the most telling witness of God’s power is not what happens when the choir is in fine voice and proclamation rings eloquently from the pulpit in the congregation of the faithful.

God saves the best for us in those moments when times are the darkest, when human beings find themselves backed to the wall by life’s cruel circumstance. I know it because I have seen it, heard it, and touched it with my own hands.

The second reason for my response has to do with the remarkable individuals with whom I have been privileged to work, day in and day out.

One special group among a multitude of outstanding professionals is the nursing profession. These women and men stand at the whirling center of an intense effort to bring healing to bear in favor of the people in their care.

In my years in Baylor Health Care system hospitals there have been times when the unmitigated, courageous audacity of a nurse in advocating for her patient has taken my breath away.

I still remember a tiny Filipina nurse in the neurosurgical intensive care unit to which I was assigned as a Chaplain Resident in 1983.  She was so short that she toted a step-stool from bed to bed so that she could reach her patients, but she was feared by the mighty when she stood up for them.

She inspired and challenged me to believe that healing was about being for your patients, first and last.

Face-to-face with heart breaking sorrow, seemingly unendurable pain, at personal risk to themselves and often for very little reward I have seen heroic mercy, compassion and unadulterated love poured out in favor of broken, hurting people.

It was from a nurse that I learned one simple phrase that has been a constant guide for me in my own vocation. “I want you to think about something, Mark,” she told me as we discussed a particularly difficult patient who was trying everyone’s patience, perhaps most of all mine, “It isn’t about us.”

“It isn’t about how much or how little they appreciate us or whether they even know that we were there. It is about them. We only get to pat ourselves on the back if we make a difference for them.”

Florence Nightingale speaks eloquently to the matter in the following statement:

Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is (working with) dead canvas or dead marble, compared to (working) with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said the finest of Fine Arts.”

About the author

Mark Grace
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Mark is the Chief Mission and Ministry Officer at Baylor Scott & White Health, where he serves as a chaplain, pastoral educator and executive. Both he and his wife serve as co-senior pastors at Iglesia Bill Harrod in Dallas, Texas.

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Let Your Patients Teach You