It is early morning. The sun has not yet appeared to disperse the hours of darkness that had settled upon our lives the previous evening. But an early rise is necessary to prepare for another new day. I adopt a rush to cleanse, dress and ready myself for the day’s events. An unpredictable and challenging drive to the metropolis awaits. Seventy-five minutes in stop and go traffic to manoeuver among and defend against hurried and impatient drivers, who willingly risk damage to vehicles and injury to self and others in order to be the first in a growing maze of anxious commuters. Thankfully another safe arrival is achieved. After a twenty minute walk, I among many enter a familiar door. A long line of people to my left excitedly await to receive their order of caffeine, a perceived boost to begin the day. I walk past them, down a busy corridor leading to a stairwell. Even at this time of day, many people have gathered to attend to life’s needs. The circular staircase leads me two stories downward to a reception area on floor 2B. Without a call or announcement, I place my green, bar coded card under the light of the scanner. On the computer screen, my legal identify and birthdate appear along with the name of the room I am to enter, T11. We each scout for a place to sit, and then we wait.
Some sleep, others read. A few are talking to their neighbours in adjoining chairs or connected by cellphones. The TV screen showcasing yesterday’s news has become a good distraction. Others block out their environment by utilizing an iPod. Several pass the time reading and sending texts. Many are just content to be still and contemplate where life has brought them.
It is a place though of no discrimination. Race, physical attributes, gender, color, dress, religion, age, social status, economic welfare or language does not live here. What makes each one equal is their situation. Disease is no respecter of persons.
Mom holds the young child patient by his hand. As he plays, he is unware of his circumstance. A husband supports his wife as she carefully and slowly finds her way. A young man holds his Dad’s arm. Another Dad walks closely with his son. The contrast is striking. Sometimes families arrive to demonstrate love and support to one of their own. Several have arrived by wheelchair, barely strong enough to make the wheels turn and direct their way. Papa is accompanied by his granddaughter. Many widowers silently wait for their named to be called. Two very young women appear. Neither are acquainted with the other but their physical similarities cannot go unnoticed. During my assessment I wonder who cares for them and do they feel cared for.
There are one hundred and eighty therapists. They conduct 18,000 treatments annually. But with each separate and individualized treatment they must not only ensure the technical and clinical specifications are mastered to perfection, but as well it is their responsibility to make us all believe they care about us. So they call each of us by name. Sometimes it is Mervin, other times it is Mr. Hillier (just to be respectful). Pronunciations differ based on which therapist is at the door. Hillier may sound like Hillyer or Hiller, the English version. My favourite is the French version “illyay”! My preference is simply to be called "Merv" but there is no need or desire to correct any of them.
With uninterrupted consistency their welcome is energized with a smile, a comforting voice and a verbal embrace. While no doubt repeated thousands of times they ask “How are you?” We do feel and believe they care about our wellbeing. But they cannot take upon themselves our burden or they will become overburdened emotionally. They practice the science of caring but must be extremely careful they are not afflicted with the art of caring. Doing so will lead to dysfunction, and what does that achieve for them or for us? We just need them to stay focused on caring for us technically. It is important I say thank you to each of them for the tireless hours of standing, for the meticulous attention to detail and challenging repetition.
I am instructed to lie down on a eight foot long bench which is no more than twenty-four inches wide. Seven hundred and fifty milliliters of stored water is demanding immediate release. My feet are placed in a premanufactured plastic mould. Laser beams pointing from the side of each wall and the ceiling above are aligned to the designated tattoos on my abdomen. The “LINAC” is adjusted and positioned with the press of a few buttons. It appears simple but the therapist’s technical skill is critical to a successful outcome. A heavy wrap is placed on my legs to discourage any unnecessary movement. I wonder what will happen if I have to sneeze. The upbeat music is encouraging me to tap my foot. An itch develops on my cheek. I must contain myself just for ten minutes. My hands are held tightly as they rest on my upper chest. A buzzer sounds. All systems are ready to go. The attendants quickly exit the room to avoid the risk of being constantly contaminated by beams of destructive radiation. They watch me on a screen from a protected place. I lie patiently as the machine purrs, positions, rotates, stops, and then repeats its programmed cycle. There is no visible evidence of any productive work being accomplished. I can only hope. The momentary isolation and imprisonment can be unnerving. For a few moments I question God as to why I am here in this place and why my prayers for healing have not been answered. But I am reminded that the Creator has provided through human innovation a sophisticated and technological advanced method for providing healing that I must trust will accomplish what is intended. God’s ways are not my ways.
The therapist re-enters and with encouragement says: "All done!" It is time for me to dress and exit as another patient waits to take my place. She hurriedly removes all evidence of my presence. We say warm goodbyes to each other and acknowledge meeting again the next day. I walk quickly to my car and drive with haste to arrive at the office to attend to work’s obligations. My email folder has many messages but one in particular has caught my attention.
When we hear of people’s difficult situations, many of us do not know how to respond. We have all often heard:
“My thoughts are with you.”
“I will pray for you.”
“Hope everything works out well.”
“All the best.”
“May God help you!”
But these do little to demonstrate care or concern (though one's offering of continual prayer in such circumstances is comforting to those who believe in God and sometimes even to those who don't). Such words fall easily off our lips but have no real meaning or significant impact. From some I appreciate their honesty. “I don’t know what to say or do. If there is any way I can help please feel free to ask me.” Their admission is real and the concern is believable.
The words we say, are often times defined with shocking insensitivity.
Over the years a group of us have met regularly to enjoy a few days of ATVing. It is an activity I enjoy immensely. An email was sent by a member of the group to all of us calling for a September ATV trip. In parenthesis were the words: “Merv, I realize your situation will not allow you to participate. Our thoughts and prayers are with you”. Then he continued to suggest dates and specifics for the rest of them to get together. An extended conversation about the difficulty to set a particular date due to the interference of vacations and travels ensued. Never was the question asked about when my treatments were finished or when I might feel ready to participate again. There was no real empathy towards my state of mind or my physical constraints.
I am a sensitive individual by nature both in giving and receiving feedback. But this conversation made me question my own responses to others in challenging situations. Do my words speak of concern? Are they formed with empathy and sensitivity to the other person’s needs? Are there times that yes, my life activities are best temporarily suspended for the benefit of others and not my selfish desires? We may invoke God in an attempt to make others feel or believe we care but I believe God asks us to be more involved, take more action, be more responsible and develop and exercise a tangible example of genuine care.
How then do we, must we answer the question “Who Cares”? Maybe we cannot expect the difficult from each other. Maybe our expectation can only be found as written in 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.” Is that enough? What does God expect of us? What do we expect of each other?
And then there was evening, and then there was morning. Another new day is presented to each one of us. But who cares?