Take time to care

Holding Hands with Elderly Patient

Years ago I was working in a hospital in a marketing/PR role. One morning I received a call from a head nurse on a medical unit. She asked if I was available to come to the floor to translate for a Spanish-speaking patient and her husband. (As I came to realize, word spreads quickly when you speak Spanish, especially when your facility serves a significant number of Hispanic patients and families.)

It wasn’t a good time. I was busy, working on a marketing plan. What an annoying interruption. Grudgingly I made my way upstairs.

The patient I came to see had just been admitted and was violently ill. (To be specific, she was vomiting, and seeing someone throw up is enough to make me want to throw up. Fortunately, I didn’t.)

I chatted with the patient’s husband, using my rusty Spanish skills. I had learned to speak Spanish in Spain as an Air Force brat in elementary school, and although I was a Spanish minor in college, not speaking Spanish on a regular basis meant my language skills were woefully inadequate. I was able to pass along some information to the nurse about the patient’s symptoms.

As I departed, I apologized to the patient’s husband for my less-than-adequate Spanish. I thanked him and wished him and his wife well.

“Your thank you is with God in heaven,” he replied in Spanish, managing to smile faintly.  I understood that much.

Really? I was surprised. He was kind and gentle, and I had entered his world at a time of crisis, feeling irritated because I didn’t have the time to help this man or his wife.

I think about this encounter occasionally, and usually the memory surfaces when I’m in a “poor me” frame of mind. I’m glad it does, because it helps me reconnect with the things in life that are most important.

Through my years of experience working in hospitals, the most satisfying accomplishments were when I helped patients and family members directly – not as an administrative person, or a marketing professional, but as someone who could interact with patients and families at a personal level.

My “thank you” from a patient’s grateful family member is something I’ll never forget. I thank this family for their kindness of spirit and patience.

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