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I Didn’t Know the Power of a Hospital Visit Until I Needed One

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What sins of omission are we allowing in service to our jealous schedules?

I never paid attention to Prince during his lifetime, and when he died, I felt like the odd man out as the world mourned his passing and art critics and his fellow musicians praised his genius. I, who had been raising a family as Prince’s star rose, heard his music in passing but was too busy to listen. As the media aired films of his performances in homage, I listened to his songs for the first time and realized I missed something special.

Just days later, when stomach and chest pains sent me to the ER of my local hospital, I learned how much else I have missed. After initial tests, the attending physician admitted me. I was not happy that I would be spending three days in hospital—or that I was being treated as a cardiac patient. In a blue funk, I texted my friend Jean, “MDs put me in hospital. Please pray.”

Early the next morning a hospital volunteer chauffeured my bed down to nuclear medicine for tests. Breathing deeply while repeating the Hail Mary kept me calm for the two hours I spent sandwiched between the bed and the scanner. I was relieved to hear “Okay, we’ve got it” and then to have my chauffeur return me to my room—even if I was going to be left alone to stare down my medical concerns.

Then footsteps made me look up to see Michelle, an acquaintance from church, smiling at the foot of the bed, asking, “How are you? Jean told me at Mass this morning that you were here. Do you want me to pray with you?”

“Thank you, yes, I could use a prayer,” I answered.

We held hands while she prayed for my healing, by which time I too was smiling. We chatted briefly. Then she said, “I’ll keep praying that all goes well. Take care.”

She left me feeling immersed in grace. I was surprised to see her because our encounters at church amount only to quick greetings, but here she was, visiting me, all because she heard. I was humbly moved.

I replayed the scene for the simple joy of it, the way one might study the facets of a tiny but flawless diamond. Her visit was brief enough not to tire me and just enough to buoy me up. It didn’t solve my medical mystery, but it quieted my soul, simply because she cared and loved me as a member of the Body of Christ. What a gift!

Later that day others came, including my parish priest who anointed me with the Sacrament of the Sick and an extraordinary minister who offered me Communion. Afterwards I was thankful for those minutes they spent with me, and how, with oil and host in hands, they extended the reach of the whole Christian community towards me.

I never realized such visits could mean so much.

I thought back to all the times I had heard a friend was ailing or recuperating from surgery. I would always pray, and—maybe—send a card. But seldom was I present to that person. Often my own busy-ness, or a stubborn protection of my personal time, stopped me from spending just a few minutes on the telephone or stopping by. Even worse, I had grown remiss in keeping in touch with friends and relatives, mostly through chronic procrastination. In the rearview mirror of my conscience, I saw the road behind me littered with sins of omission and lost opportunities to show I cared.

It is one thing to miss out on a cultural phenomenon like Prince. Thanks to technology, I can download his videos and music and make up for lost time. It is another thing to miss an opportunity to love and to be present to others in their hour of need. Yes, our overbooked lives pull us in too many directions, but what sacrifices are we making to our jealous schedules? What is it doing to our becoming the community God calls us to be?

Midway through this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I have made a resolution to be more mindful and proactive in keeping in touch with those I care about, not out of guilt but because I received and beheld the beauty of those works of mercy.

Fortunately, nothing was medically wrong with my heart, and surgery quashed my gallbladder’s rebellion. But that hospital stay opened my heart and eyes spiritually and taught me a lesson in community and discipleship: Pay attention and be there for one another.

[Editor’s Note: Take the daily poll — Do you ever visit the sick, or volunteer to make hospital calls?]

 

Dorothy LaMantia, freelance writer and former middle school teacher of English, won a Catholic Press Association award for her reporting on children’s issues in the Diocese of Trenton, NJ and writes stories of  everyday faith and redemption.

 

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