I believe, as Mother Teresa once said, that “We can do no great things, only small
things with great love.”
Accompanying a friend to the emergency room at our local hospital, I dreaded the hours of waiting I knew that I most likely faced. I had heard horror stories of people spending all day—eight or nine hours, maybe longer—just waiting. Still, my friend needed me to take her, so I went.
I settled myself into an uncomfortable chair and started flipping through the outdated magazines that are donated by the local churches. At one time, I would have sat there, oblivious to everyone around me. 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 a little girl of about seven with a dreadful rash on her legs. She got into everything, even though her harried mother tried to keep track of her. The two younger children, a toddler and an infant, cried continuously, the decibel level increasing with each passing minute.
A young woman, sitting next to them, 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. When she offered a bottle, the baby 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
window. The rain cascaded, tapping against the glass. The mother began to tap, tap, tap her hand on the toddler’s back in time to the rain as she crooned softly. It wasn’t long before his head began to bob and finally nestled between his mother’s chin and shoulder. Wearily she sat down, gently resting her head on his as he slept.
By this time, the seven-year-old girl 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 to come to his assistance. 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.
“Aren’t you allowed to go back with your friend?” I asked. If that was the rule, I understood, but was 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 the only ones who remained were the elderly man who had entertained the little girl, a young man whom I had not noticed before, and me. I looked over at the elderly man and he smiled invitingly.
“You did a great job entertaining that little girl with your harrowing story,” I laughed.
“Well, 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. When Daniel tried to help, he fell right on top of me.”
Just then, the hospital aide came into the waiting area and wheeled the old man back to see the doctor.
Looking at Daniel I asked, “Can you finish the story?”
“Sure,” he obliged. “Mr. C’s had his dog for about fifteen years. 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.”
Daniel’s eyes met mine. “So I was picking him up to have him cremated. That’s what I do you see, I cremate people’s pets,” he finished.
At this point in the story, 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 reflecting on my afternoon in the emergency room, of the many bittersweet stories here. Yet my spirit was uplifted and joyous because of them. I thought of the selflessness of the young woman who had put aside her own grief and fear over her unborn child to help a distressed mother care for her children; the elderly man who helped calm a little girl 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.
What happened that afternoon would inspire me for some time to come. I had waited, yes, but my time had not been wasted. At a time when there is so much focus on the dark side of life, my time in that emergency room was an unexpected blessing.