Planes, Trains, and Hospital Beds: Lessons in Vulnerability

“Why are we here, Randy?” the older man asked the younger man.

I wasn’t eavesdropping on their conversation. They were sitting in the next row of chairs in the surgical center waiting room where I sat early this morning filling out my pre surgery consent forms. I couldn’t help but overhear.

“Why are we here, Randy?” the older man asked the younger man again.

He looked up from filling out his form. “I’m having a procedure done, Dad. They’re going to put a tube down my throat and look around. You’re driving me home.”

“I’d be glad to do that, Randy.”

Long pause and then,

“Do I have a car?”

“Yes, Dad, Mom is right over there and she is going to drive us all home,” said the son, with patience in his voice and kindness on his face.

“Well, all right then. I’m glad I can help you out. When we get home I’ll make you some coffee.”

“Thank you Dad. Nobody makes coffee as good as yours.”

Listening in on their conversation took my mind off my dread of my own procedure.

A half hour later as I lay in my fetching hospital gown on a bed with bars, I reflected on just how much I dislike being vulnerable. A smiling and competent nurse named Cindy came into make sure my name matched the name on my wrist bracelet and that I really wasn’t allergic to any medications. As she began to take my blood pressure, I said to her “You know I really appreciate nurses. You take care of people when they’re vulnerable. You have knowledge, but also compassion. And those are such a gift when you’re the one lying in the hospital bed.”

She thanked me and we chatted while she put the IV in a vein in my hand.

“Your blood pressure is a little high,” Cindy said.  “But that’s common among our patients.” She left to get the anesthesiologist.

Of course people about to undergo procedures have high blood pressure. Nobody likes to be vulnerable. But when you are, what a gift it is when someone else is kind!  When someone is kind to you when you’re vulnerable, you develop a desire to return the favor the next time you have the chance to be kind to someone else who is vulnerable. More broadly, you’re sensitized to the lives of others for whom this experience is a regular part of daily life.

When I was in Germany in August I tore my retina in Rothenburg. The bed and breakfast proprietress, Elsa, called and made an appointment with her eye doctor for me. She then called her friend Frieda who drove a taxi. Frieda drove me to the eye doctor and stopped out in front of a several story building and told me in German how to get to the eye doctor’s office. Seeing that I did not understand and that I was anxious, she parked her cab and walked me into the elevator, pushed the button for the fourth floor, and walked me to the office entrance. The nurses in the eye doctor’s office were concerned and attentive. The eye doctor fit me into his already busy schedule and did laser surgery to correct the problem before it became a detached retina. That fits my definition of vulnerable: needing surgery in a country where your grasp of the language is limited to being able to read road signs and say good day and thank you. I was vulnerable,  and bed and breakfast owner, taxi driver, nurses and eye doctor were kind.

From Rothenburg, I went on to attend a conference on preaching in Wittenberg. When it was over I had to travel by train from Wittenberg to Frankfurt, and then catch a direct flight to Dallas.  To get from Wittenberg to Frankfurt I had to catch two trains, quite close together in time. As luck would have it, on the first train, I sat in the same compartment with 2 college girls, Emma and Pia, who were also traveling to Frankfurt. The conductor asked them to help the American woman make her connection. Thanks to their excellent command of English, we were able to have a delightful conversation about life in Germany and life in the US.  I was vulnerable and they were kind.

After all these experiences, I keep thinking back to the conversation between Randy and his dad that I overheard this morning.

His dad, in his confusion and memory loss, was vulnerable. And Randy was kind.

But there was something in the gracious way the older man spoke and smiled at his son that made me think that maybe Randy was only returning the favor.


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