Last May, about a month before our lives would change drastically due to a mostly forgotten essay that went viral (before I even had a blog site), I wrote the following and posted it on FaceBook. It is almost six months later, and we are in Eastern Washington, preparing to speak again for another group of nursing students.
bursting with excitement at the prospect of getting to spend the morning tomorrow with a large classroom full of individuals who want to learn how to not only care for the body of a patient, but for their mind, heart and soul…especially when those patients may be homeless, struggling with addiction or unable to speak English. Perhaps their religious faith or sexual orientation are very different from what is deemed “normal” in the hospital’s local community; do they not still deserve the same excellent care that is boasted about in all the hospital’s advertising materials? So, if you’d like to know what Rob and I are up to, feel free to read on. Thanks for taking the time!
I have to be up in four hours, in order to get to Seattle University on time for a 7:30 am class. Rob and I have been invited to speak, this week and next, to two groups of first year nursing students, on the topic of respect and dignity for every patient.
Part of our intro goes something like this…
You have chosen a career that has incredible meaning and huge potential to impact the lives of not just your patients, but the families of your patients, as well.
We tell them, through our story, how that impact can be for harm or for healing, depending on how they wield it. We share a bit about the painful scorn, glaring neglect and blatant discrimination Ryan experienced at two different hospitals where we were with Ryan in the ICU. But our focus is on the GOOD stuff – the endless acts and words of kindness, respect and genuine compassion that we received from the medical team at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle during our 17 day stay there.
Each time we prepare to speak to a group of nursing students, I have trouble sleeping the night before. Typically something goes wrong to cause us to be unable to get into bed, or, like last time and again tonight, I received a “random” extremely disturbing phone call or message from one of Ryan’s old friends – friends that are still, tragically, using drugs. For those of my friends who believe in God – and Satan – it seems obvious where these come from. But for those of my friends who don’t believe in a personal God, much less the devil, I’m okay with you saying it is just bad luck. Even bad karma. I respect your beliefs; I have amazing friends, and I am grateful that you respect mine! But whatever the case, for the 24 hours before we go do this presentation, it always seems like all hell breaks loose in an effort to keep us from speaking.
Perhaps that is because our story illustrates exactly what Jesus taught when He told us to love the least of these…when He modeled treating those society despised with the utmost respect…when He broke commandments by healing those who were suffering on the Sabbath. As one of our doctors at Harborview said, “Didn’t Jesus hang out with prostitutes and sinners??” Yup. 100%. And who did He spend the most time calling out?? You got it. The “good people” of the day…those super religious folks that were always – ARE always – harping about who is doing what wrong. And sadly it typically doesn’t involve much self-reflection.
Perhaps it is because our story challenges our listeners to put aside their fears, judgments, prejudices and biases to see the SOUL of their patients. We encourage them to do what our team of nurses did – they looked beyond the outward condition to Ryan’s story. They didn’t judge him by his addiction, the number of times he had already overdosed, the horrific condition he was in, his sexual orientation or the fact that he no longer owned anything of value other than a few items of clothing, a lot of well-read books and memorabilia from childhood. The Bible has a LOT to say about our human tendency to judge others by their outward appearance, and God’s constancy in looking only at our hearts. And He sees – and loves – EVERYONE. No exceptions. Not even those religious folks He was so often calling out.
Or maybe it is because we can’t tell the story of our 17 days in Harborview without recounting at least a few of the many wonders we witnessed there. Our story wouldn’t make sense without telling about the day Ryan was being transferred to the hospice to die and then…he wasn’t. The next six days, and the way that the hospital lovingly cared for Ryan, and for our family, while we experienced things nobody could explain was…well, as one of Ryan’s doctors said, “Even the most staunch atheists around here are using the word MIRACLE.”
As many times as we’ve presented this story…as many times as we’ve read it through and vividly remembered each moment as it is retold, Rob and I never stop marveling. It always brings us to tears, and leaves us in awe of our good God who proved His love for Ryan by giving us all unexpected time to spend together, and an invaluable chance to say good-bye.
If you’ve never heard the story, you ought to come sometime and sit in the back, behind all those super smart nursing students, and listen. I am, and have always been, prone to doubt. But when we tell our story, even my doubts go out the window (and that is really saying something, especially these days!).
I am reminded of how personal, powerful and passionate God was toward us in those 17 days.
Or if you know a group of nursing students or people in other caring professions who could use a real-life example of how they can change the lives of a family forever (even if their loved one doesn’t survive), by the dignity, respect, compassion and kindness they show in their words and their actions, let us know. For us, getting to share both about the painful things we went through, and the gloriously precious days provided for us by Harborview (with a bit of help from God) is all about healing and redemption. It binds our wounds, and makes our grief a little easier to bear, knowing that maybe even a few other families will receive the kind of extraordinary treatment we did when they experience the worst trauma of their lives.
At the very least, you’ll learn why, in our opinion, there is NO WHERE else to go but Harborview if you have a serious medical emergency in the Pacific Northwest. But no, we don’t get referral bonuses, nor do they even know we tell all sorts of people about how amazing they are!
But most of all, we tell Ryan’s story because Ryan matters to us. Because we will never stop honoring him and all that he taught us in both life and in death, as long as we have the voices to do so. Because we adore our beautiful boy…just because he breathes…and even when he does not.
*To know the enormous significance of those two words…you’ll have to listen to our story. We’ll be sharing it on January 10th at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Chicago – Join us there!