I watched her as she softly rubbed her pregnant belly, and followed her gaze to the mother who was holding her infant as close to her as possible given the IV and monitors between them. I imagine she could feel that mother’s pain as she caressed the unborn child within her. She glanced down at her belly once more before continuing her rounds, checking on each child as they were wheeled out of surgery and into the recovery area. More than once she rubbed her belly as though reassuring herself in some way. And as I watched her, I felt her pain.
She approached the father who rocked his baby girl and tried to wrap his strong arms around her, even though both her arms were bound in splints preventing her from giving or receiving a proper hug. She was obviously uncomfortable as she thrashed around, unable to keep still. I watched that daddy with all the patience in the world, hold his little girl, and whisper words to soothe her…words only to be shared by the two of them, words he hoped would comfort her and in turn comfort him too. And as I watched him, I felt his pain.
Just steps from them, I heard a couple simultaneously reciting a list of medications their young daughter was currently taking. I was taken aback by how efficiently they packed her belongings, wiped the drool from her mouth, and inched her wheelchair closer to the hospital bed in preparation for the transfer. I was in awe of how their every movement seemed to be part of a synchronized dance, each anticipating the other’s next move, each understanding their role. I watched them carry their daughter into her wheelchair, the mom brushing back a stray lock of hair off her daughter’s face, the dad gently cradling her like he must have when she was an infant even though her legs now draped and dangled over his arms. I realized their fluid movements must come from years of practice. And as I watched them, I felt their pain.
I returned my attention to the nurse as she led us to the waiting area where we would join the rest of the family members waiting for their loved ones to come out of surgery. It brought me back to all the moments in emergency rooms, hospitals, and doctor’s offices I had witnessed in the last two weeks – when I felt my own son’s pain as he doubled over, my daughter’s pain as she saw her brother in the hospital for the first time and tears streamed down her face, my husband’s pain as he stole worried glances at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. I saw complete strangers in pain, worried for their loved ones, faraway looks in their eyes as their current experiences caused them to relive another pain from another time, another place.
As I paced the waiting room, I watched the nurse deep in conversation with a dad and his teenage daughter who rubbed her bandaged arm to the same slow rhythm the nurse rubbed her pregnant belly. As I watched the fearful look in the young girl’s eyes, I felt her pain. It was then I glanced at another woman sitting off to the side by herself, and noticed she couldn’t take her eyes off the nurse’s hand as it moved up and down time and again, covering the span of her belly with soft, soothing strokes. Pain filled her eyes as her own hand mimicked the nurse’s movements. Yet, when I took a closer look at her hands I saw them caressing a very flat stomach, her teary gaze locked on the nurse’s hands as her own kept up the same rhythm. And as I watched her, I felt her pain.
As we cross paths with complete strangers, we must remember that our pain may seem greater because it is our own, but we truly have no idea where someone else’s pain stems from. Show compassion. Be slow to judge, but be quick to love.