i sat where they sat

So remembers the prophet, Ezekiel. He had journeyed with his fellow exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon. Refugees from their homeland. Holy City and Temple. Sad and disillusioned people of God. He was there with them experiencing the sadness and loneliness they knew. He felt for them. He was beside and with them. As a prophet, he felt a very human inability to reassure his own people, as he felt he ought. He was vulnerable too.

The experience of cancer. Diagnosis a shock. Going to the hospital for many days for treatment. The colour of the gown you are given to wear tells everyone the type of cancer you have. You began to know each one by name. They were more than patients, real people. Some with scarves. Very young, too young. It was not all about me. Some smiled, a few chatted. Others silent, sad or meditative. Privacy respected.

Yet there was a sense of solidarity and cheerfulness, a greeting. Many weeks of treatment ahead. Some would recover, some not. Some came alone, some with family or a friend. Over time you learned what had happened as a result of treatment. Remissions, more treatment, hope, death of one known for all too brief a time, all part of the unfolding picture.

The staff, wonderful dedicated people, who greeted you personally, smiled, made you feel okay, amidst those impersonal machines. Respecting your feelings and privacy, yet business-like in their approach. Genuine professionals in the business of healing. You were special to them. To the staff, you mattered as a person as you occupied the waiting room week by week. You were more than a name on a list. You were a person, greeted with a smile. Their confidence reassuring your embarrassment and nervousness in strange and revealing attire as you underwent radiation treatment. In all a privilege to sit where they sat day by day in that waiting room. Cancer, a dreadful disease. Many worse off, but you were one in understanding and acceptance of each other.

My mind reflected on the story of Jesus and the widow of Nain. Bereft of her only son and all that meant for a woman in the ancient world. When Jesus came upon her, he understood her plight and was deeply moved.

Over many weeks in this unique community of acceptance, understanding, and healing, I learned something of the difference between sympathy and compassion. As I sat where they sat, it became very real. I am grateful for what this experience taught me. Much to be thankful for. It was, and is, not all about me.

Once a year I return to Monash for tests. My specialist and I are like old friends. He is so dedicated to research and to help others and to save lives. I owe him a great deal. I am privileged to have my recorded data to be used for further research. Each time I return to Monash and pass the waiting room where so many wait patiently for diagnosis and treatment by such special carers, whose only concern is to help with the best medical support available. As I wait I offer a prayer for each. Often I have calls from friends and others who need a word reassurance. It was the great physician, talented organist and missionary Albert  Schweitzer, whose own contribution to healing resulted in his witnessing to, and living out his wonderful dictum, Reverence for Life.

All who serve in the field of healing witness to that. To me, the words of Jesus echo ”I am come that you might have life, life more abundant.”   

Bill Pugh