Cafeteria Line

I originally published this in June of 2012.  Re-posting for those who follow my blog and may have missed this and for new followers to consider.  

Hospitals, Doctors’ offices and diagnostic centers are places people go for help with some kind of medical condition—usually one that they don’t understand.  The emotions carried into these physical spaces are varied but, most of the time, some degree of fear underlies all of them.  And fear knows no limit.  It accompanies all of us when we face the unknown.

In my teaching, I emphasize stopping as an important practice for those of us who are privileged to serve in these sacred places.  I say ‘sacred’ because in a healthcare environment, we are meeting people who are at their most vulnerable and the opportunity to heal begins the moment we encounter them.  Whether in the parking lot, the lobby, the halls and waiting rooms, not to mention the exam and patient rooms, every healthcare professional can, if they stop long enough, touch and contribute to our guests’ sense of wellbeing.

For now, forget about risk, compliance, HIPAA and whether you have all the right words.  Just stop, observe, listen and be willing to respond to a frightened person’s (usually) unspoken concerns.  I did this once in line in a hospital cafeteria.  A woman paying for her meal was distracted, hurried and the cashier was having difficulty ringing up the order.  I simply told her that I would pay for her meal so she could get to where she was going without delay.  At that moment, the woman broke down, sobbing.  She apologized and explained that she had just been told that her husband of 50 years was being transferred to Hospice.  That’s it.  In the blink of an eye, a person was able to share heartbreaking news with someone who until that moment was a complete stranger.  I didn’t plan to do anything ‘special’ with this stopping event.  Honestly, I was probably more anxious to keep the line moving.  But I was blessed and as it turns out, I was also a blessing to this very special person.

Stopping isn’t necessarily heroic.  But it is necessary if we want to touch others in a way that makes a difference.