Emergencies of the Heart
“We can do no great things, only small things
with great love.” Mother Teresa
I believe in the goodness of the human heart because I had the opportunity to spend time in a hospital emergency room last week. I had accompanied a friend to the emergency room at our local hospital. Having heard horror stories about emergency rooms, I dreaded the hours of waiting that I knew I faced.
At one time I would have been oblivious to those around me, preferring to read the outdated magazines that are donated by the local churches. This time, for some reason, I looked restlessly around me, unable to focus on reading.
There was a young mother with three small children. One was about seven, with a dreadful rash on her legs. She was getting into everything and the harried mother was trying to keep track of her. The two younger children, a toddler and an infant, were crying continuously, the decibel level increasing with each passing minute.
A young woman, sitting next to this family, leaned over and said something to the exhausted mother. Smiling gratefully, the mother nodded and the young woman gently reached into the carrier and snuggled the baby into her arms, offering a bottle it began to nurse hungrily.
The mother captured the toddler as he climbed over a chair in an attempt to reach the window. His screams were those of frustration from not being able to achieve his goal. The mother stood holding him, rocking side to side as she pointed toward the windows. The rain cascaded, creating tapping sounds as it hit the glass. The mother began to tap, tap, tap her hand on the toddlers back in time to the rain as she crooned softly. It wasn’t long before his head began to bob and to finally nestle between his mother’s chin and shoulder. Wearily she sat down, gently resting her head on his as he slept.
By this time, the older child was engaged in a conversation with an elderly man who had a bloody bandage around his leg. She was entranced by the story of how he had fallen down out of a tree while trying to rescue his cat, describing how the fire department had come to his rescue. I smiled at this corny old story.
A hospital representative came out. “We are ready for you now, “ she said to the young mother. “ Let me help you take the children back.”
I was surprised when the young woman who had quieted the baby, stayed behind.
“Are you not allowed to go back with your friend?” I asked, understanding this requirement, but incredulous nonetheless.
“Oh I don’t know her,” she responded. “I could see she just needed help with those children. I’m here because I’m pregnant and I may be losing my baby.”
Her eyes misted and her lips trembled. Before I could respond she also was called to go back.
Taking a deep breath, I prayed that she and her baby would be all right.
Blinking, I looked around the small waiting room and realized that only the elderly man who had entertained the little girl, a young man whom I had not noticed before, and I remained. I looked over at the elderly man and he smiled invitingly.
“You did a great job entertaining that little girl with you harrowing story,” I laughed.
“Well it was corny – but it always works on the little ones,” he said sheepishly. “I do like kids, even though I don’t have any of my own.”
“How did you really hurt your leg?” I asked.
“Well, when Daniel here came over to get my dog,” he responded, nodding his head toward the younger man, “I lost my footing and fell down an embankment and when Daniel tried to help, he fell right on top of me.”
Again, as had been the process for the afternoon, the hospital aide arrived to wheel him back to see the doctor.
Looking at Daniel I asked, “Can you finish the story?”
“Mr. C’s had his dog for about fifteen years,” he obliged, “It just died of old age I guess. But he loved that dog and he couldn’t stand the thoughts of burying him and leaving. You see, he and Mrs. C. are retiring and will be moving. He didn’t have the heart to leave his best friend behind.”
“So I was picking him up to have him cremated. That’s what I do you see, I cremate people’s pets,” he finished.
It was at this point in the story that the hospital aide called Daniel’s name.
“Darn the efficiency of this hospital,” I muttered.
Alone now, I was left with my thoughts. I sat peacefully as I reflected on my afternoon in the emergency room. There were many bittersweet stories here, yet my spirit was uplifted and joyous because of them.
The selflessness of a young woman who had put her own grief and fear aside as she helped a distressed mother care for her children; the elderly man who helped calm a child with his tall tales, while he sat bleeding and in pain; and the young man who, with such sensitivity, provided comfort to someone who had lost a beloved pet, would inspire me for some time to come.
In a time when it seems that there is so much focus on the dark side of life, I realize that my time in the hospital emergency room was an unexpected blessing. I am joyful to have experienced these demonstrations of people helping people as they put aside their own anguish to help those in need. I believe in the basic goodness of the human heart.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.