Care.

Years ago, my wife and I were helping a church clean up the building & grounds. We ran across an old sign from a previous tenant of the building and it proclaimed, “The church who cares.” We always get a good laugh out of it because of the grammar. Is it the church – who cares? Or were they trying to say they were the church that cared? Likewise, a moving company has the slogan “Movers who care.” Meanwhile I notice there are ophthalmologists that care, urgent care clinics, childcare facilities, even a global aid group called Care. The point in all that is that care matters and that we respond to the idea of being cared for.

I’m seeing a counselor now to help me sort through my recent brain trauma experience. He told me about a study done in his profession. They determined that where the degree came from, the books read or written, the time in the field didn’t matter to clients. What did matter was the idea that the counselor cared. So a sheepskin from Harvard lost out to a caring person with a degree from a state school. And in my own experience I have found that a medical provider that shows empathy, cares, is more likely to get my attention and trust. I – we – are not machines, but humans that feel.

During nearly two months in the hospital and rehab I came to be a student of the subject of care. Not just do they come when I push the buzzer? Do they take my blood pressure? Do my meals show up on time? But are they caring people? Do they have hearts and souls? Do they feel my pain? And I came to a resounding conclusion, at least in regard to Erlanger Hospital and Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation:

Yes. Yes they do.

Care is… Mandy sneaking in quietly at night to check my catheter so I could get a good night’s sleep.

Care is… Renee spending extra time listening to me talk about being depressed while she is giving me my meds.

Care is… Michelle helping me, actually making me, take my first tentative steps with a walker.

Care is… Sue bringing me coffee first thing with a cheery “Good morning, sunshine”

Care is… Donna insisting that she be the one to wheel me out to the car when I was discharged and saying goodbye with a hug.

Care is… John seemingly waiting on me hand and foot when I still could barely move, and always with a gentle kindness.

Care is… Carlos taking it easy on me in PT when he knew I was having a bad day.

Care is… Amber painstakingly affixing my catheter so it wouldn’t bind while I was exercising

Care is… Lora listening to me whine about the uncomfortable wheelchair and then managing to round up a high-back and wonderful replacement.

Care is… Danna patiently showing Diana how to catheter me, step by step, with the patience of a saint.

Care is… Daniel keeping it lighthearted while he pulled my feeding tube out of my nose, and then proudly displaying the ridiculously long tube, all with a smile.

Care is… Robin teaching me how to shower by making me do all the work. And then insisting I put on my shoes and socks even when I insisted I couldn’t. She was right, and I could because she cared.

Care is… all these fine people, and many more that I wish I could mention, that all seemed to be driven by the need to care, to make sure the patient is taken care of beyond just a functional level. I could feel in my soul their genuine desire that I be cared for well.

Funny thing is, it’s a two-way street. Diana and I both took an interest in each and every one of them. We learned about their families, their hopes and dreams, their struggles and life challenges. I guess you could say we became friends in our few weeks together. In other words, we were humans sharing the human experience. Seems like Jesus said something about that…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

It’s not about our background, our education, the books we’ve read or where we go (or don’t go) to church. It’s about do we care for others – emotionally, physically, spiritually – as much as we do for ourselves? It’s not about great charitable deeds, discovering a medical breakthrough, building a successful business – unless we actually care about the people we meet along the way. Caring – showing empathy, exercising compassion, demonstrating love – is the one thing we can all do, all the time. Even Kid Rock gets it:

“Cause I can’t stop the war
Shelter homeless, feed the poor
I can’t walk on water
I can’t save your sons and daughters
Well, I can’t change the world and make things fair
The least that I can do is care”

I fully realize that it was the job of all these people to help me on my medical journey. They got paid. But without exception every single person I encountered went above and beyond earning a paycheck. They worked the twelve-hour shifts, dealt with patients at many levels of disease and disability, came running whenever called – because they actually cared. Both of these hospitals are fortunate to have found this many men and women that can operate at this level of competence. And care.

But it is called health care after all.

My experience was terrifying, challenging, stressful. It was all made bearable and memorable by these fine CNAs, nurses, doctors and therapists that didn’t just help me get well and overcome but cared for me.

To the people who helped me make it home, thank you for caring.

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