October 10, 2013

Thankful for Bethesda Hospital

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 10, 2013

Thankful for Bethesda Hospital

Recently I was hospitalized. One afternoon I was in Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre receiving shock wave lithotripsy (to smash a large kidney stone), and later that evening the pain was so great I ended up in Steinbach's Emergency Room and was subsequently admitted to Bethesda Hospital for about a week. Now (at time of writing) I am convalescing at home, awaiting surgery.

During my week at Bethesda Hospital, between doses of morphine, I had some time to think. Two thoughts dominated: Giving thanks, and asking why.

My first thought was this: I am grateful—I must give thanks to the doctors and nurses who tended to my medical needs.

Thanks, then, to emergency doctors Christo Minnaar and Hillary Widdifield. Thanks for getting me through the most painful night I've ever endured. Thanks, too, to the emergency room nurses. I'm sorry that I don't remember your names—the pain killers you administered worked too well!

Thanks also to hospitalist doctor Mohammad Shokri and thanks to the following nurses (BNs, RNs, LPNs, HCAs): Audrey, Bettima, Carrol, Cori, Dani, Daniella, Jamie, Janis, Jennifer, Jill, Kelly, Lyn, Millie, Theresa, Tina, Sharron, Sue. And special thanks to housekeeping: Verna.

I appreciate your expertise, and I appreciate your caring hearts.

Please know that I marveled at your pace: When you walked, you walked very quickly—and you often ran. You worked hard. You often worked overtime, again and again. Thank you for caring.

My second thought was this: Why? Why do we care for the sick and the weak? Why do we have hospitals?

I have no doubt that my pain was minor compared to that of others, and I have no illusion of thinking of myself more special than anyone else.

I saw an old man suffering from great pains in his heart. I saw a frail fellow who had a leg amputated above the knee. I heard a tiny newborn babe, crying its first breaths.

But why do we care for all who suffer, whether old or young, whether of high social status or low social status?

I find it interesting that the ancient Greeks and Romans generally saw aiding the sick and dying, especially those who were slaves or laborers, to be a sign of weakness.

Religious and social historian Rodney Stark writes: "in the [Greco-Roman] pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice." (Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity [HarperOne 2011], p. 112.)

Sociologist Alvin J. Schmidt writes: "the Greeks and Romans had some form of hospital before the Christians introduced them, but [these] were not places where the sick of the general public were housed and cared for out of charity. They were at best only places for treating soldiers."

Schmidt adds: "Charity hospitals for the poor and indigent public did not exist until Christianity introduced them." (Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World [Zondervan 2004], p. 155.)

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that every hospital is Christian or that every nurse and doctor holds Christian beliefs. Rather, I'm wondering: Why do hospitals value people—all people?

I find it interesting that, whether we are Christian or not, Jesus Christ's influence on our culture—His call to care for "the least of these"—is still with us.

For this I am grateful, too.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

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