I was recently given the inordinate bounty to have a one-centimetre kidney stone removed from my body. Wait a minute, I hear you protesting. Of all the possible things that could be described as bounties, having a kidney stone that big is definitely not one of them. Well, that’s true—the stone itself hurt like a thousand hells squished together into a little gel cap. I wouldn’t wish one on my very worst enemy.
In all my life, with only one exception when I was very young, I’ve never actually spent more than a few hours at a time in hospitals. Most of my impressions of hospitals has been decidedly negative—sick people lying on cots in lonely corridors waiting to be pushed to an operating room somewhere, thickly packed emergency rooms resounding with groans and cries of pain. So when I checked in to have a stone removed, I was steeling myself for bleakness and despair. While there was at first a sense of loneliness and confusion, I soon came to realize that there were people around me doing their best to help me, care for me and keep me comfortable. It may sound cheesy or naive, but through the darkness of despair, there shone the light of compassion. It’s not something I’m used to noticing—perhaps because I’m not used to needing help.
O Son of Man! If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? (Bahá’u’lláh)
Over the night and the next day, I stayed in a ward room at the Ottawa General Hospital, with three older men in varying condition as wardmates. We chatted a fair bit, and each one had their stories to tell. We talked a lot about the conditions in the hospital, about having to wait for operations, wait for answers, wait for so many other things. I suddenly understood why they called us “patients”. One of the men had been in the hospital for a week and still had no idea what was wrong with him; one of the others had had an ankle operation postponed at least three times before he finally made it through. For most of them, what made the experience livable were the nurses and orderlies who took care of them in their moments of waiting. The orderlies helped them with their basic tasks and kept them comfortable; the nurses fought to find answers to their questions and helped keep them in good spirits. We spent a few minutes uplifting the conversation, too: what makes the difference between a good nurse and a not-so-good nurse, or a good doctor and a not-so-good doctor? Apart from the obvious qualities of being technically, mentally and emotionally competent, we observed (though perhaps not in so many words) that spiritual qualities of service, compassion and kindness made a tremendous difference.
That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. (Bahá’u’lláh)
Obviously, this made me think of all my friends who work in the health care field in a new light. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking about you guys. How difficult it must be for these brave souls to deal with the trials and tribulations unique to health care—especially in this day, when nursing and medical shortages are endemic and policymakers can’t seem to make up their mind on how to fix things. Their willingness to selflessly put their skills, talents and knowledge to the service of humankind is a pillar to which an ailing humanity will cling as its institutions slowly fall apart.
With regards to the importance of spiritual underpinnings to any person’s trade or profession, the Baha’i International Community writes in its statement The Prosperity of Humankind that “the training that can make it possible for the earth’s inhabitants to participate in the production of wealth will advance the aims of development only to the extent that such an impulse is illumined by the spiritual insight that service to humankind is the purpose of both individual life and social organization.”
One of the titles of Bahá’u’lláh is the “Divine Physician” who prescribes the remedy for the ills of mankind in this Day—and that remedy is His Revelation. “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind,” He says; “He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy.” Among the remedies prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh are: the realization of the oneness of humanity, the oneness of God, and the oneness of His prophets; the elevation of work performed in a spirit of service to the rank of worship; and the abolition of all forms of prejudice, gossip and backbiting. And how should these mighty means for the betterment of the world be accomplished, one may ask? To that, Bahá’u’lláh says: “The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct.”
So, in short—kudos and my deep aprreciation to those of you who work in the health care field. I was treated to a palpable dose of compassion while I was in the hospital this week, and to hear it told and retold on the evening news, that’s hard to do nowadays. Perhaps those of you out there who treat it as a matter of worship can leave a few comments about how they keep the pure and goodly deeds coming in the face of so many obstacles. Goodness knows, we (and by that I also mean I) could learn from you!