My husband never talks about his patients with me. (He’s the poster boy for the HIPAA law.) But when a call from the hospital comes in at night, sometimes I am privy to his side of the conversation. I might hear snippets such as the person’s age, or what tests they need to have done. I’ve learned which keywords will lead to me sleeping alone that night (ruptured, perforation) and which will keep him snuggled next to me (elective, antibiotics).
Within thirty seconds of the phone call ending, my husband will be back to sleep. It’s a self-preserving skill he learned in residency. But for me, it’s not that easy. Now I’m up. And now I’m thinking about this person who I know nothing about, beyond the fact that they are, say, 66-years-old and have a high fever and need an ERCP, whatever that is.
Now that I know about them, and I’m awake, I do what I can for them. Which isn’t much, but I hold them in my mind, and I wish them well. I like to envision a little bit of the comfort I’m sending to them actually finding it’s way to the ER, or the ICU, or their room. It’s improbable, but it’s possible. So I go there.
Many, many nights, phone calls or not, I hold my husband’s hands in mine and offer a straight-up prayer. First it’s a thank you for all the times his hands have been safely guided to help in the past, then it’s a prayer for continued guidance and strength in the future. If my husband knew any of this, he’d be doing an eye-roll/gagging noise combination. He’s a man of hard logic and science. We’re quite a pair.
Sometimes, one is on the receiving end of good thoughts. Three years ago this month, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT experienced the unthinkable. The news trickled first into our local consciousness (60 miles away) and then onto the national and international stage. And while I struggled with shock and fear and that sickening too close-to-home feeling, something strangely comforting started happening.
First, a phone call from my sister, 3,000 miles and two time zones away. When her first patient of the day asked, “Isn’t it terrible about what happened at that school in CT?” her stomach dropped, and she thought of me. Then a steady stream of friends, from all over the country, from all phases of my life, started checking in: I saw the news, and I thought of you. Are you okay? Are the kids okay?
I heard from people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, from close friends, and from Christmas-card-only friends. All wished me well and expressed relief that today, this time, the tragedy was not ours. In the weeks that followed, sadness would wash over me in waves. But the comfort of being thought of by so many always gave me strength and pulled me to a safe shore.
We can never know how many people are thinking of us, maybe right now, and wishing us well. It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to think of the Newtown families. A face, a name, or an image will come to mind, and in that moment I’ll send them love and comfort. Imagine, for every time someone pops into your mind, or you hold someone in prayer, meditation, or good light, someone else could be doing the same for you!
Maybe the husband or wife of the doctor you visited last week is at home, doing chores, and sending you strong, positive vibes.
When you need some help from others, take it. When you have strength to share, give it. And never underestimate the power of I’m thinking of you.