A Hospital Angel
My longtime patient told me the story of how she met an angel in our hospital one night.
My patient gave me permission to share this story. All identifying details and clinical specifics are omitted, of course. Not only for ethical reasons and HIPAA compliance, but because the key themes of this story are universal.
She had had symptoms that could have been due to something serious; Actually there were several concerning possibilities. And she was growing increasingly frightened and frustrated, because different doctors kept walking into the room and announcing yet another dire diagnosis on the differential, but without much explanation nor reassurance. It was decided that she had to have a special MRI, and it had to happen overnight.
She was anxious, and alone. “I really didn’t think I could do it, I didn’t think I would be able to tolerate the MRI. I was really very scared.”
But as she was waiting, a kind nurse appeared to help her. My patient wears a cross pendant that she had had to remove, and the nurse asked about it. They started chatting, and realized that they shared the same deep faith. They had a conversation about their families and the importance of spirituality in their lives.
The wait for the machine was a long one, and the nurse came to her side as often as she could. They talked about things that truly mattered. She learned that the nurse’s name was Cynthia, and also learned so much about her as a person.
Then, it was my patient’s turn. Suddenly she was terrified, and it was the middle of the night, and no one was allowed into the MRI with her… She was near tears.
Cynthia reached for her hand and pressed a small object into her palm. It was a rosary ring, and she explained how it can be spun around the finger multiple times as the rosary is prayed on each raised knob. The crucifix is the ‘Our Father’ bead. And it isn’t magnetic, so could go into the MRI machine. She explained how focusing on the prayer can ease anxiety and create calm.
“If it brings you comfort, it’s yours, please keep it,” Cynthia insisted as my patient was wheeled away.
The ring was indeed MRI-safe, and my patient did pray the rosary throughout her entire procedure. “I felt like the Lord was with me, that I was completely safe,” she explained. “That nurse, she was an angel, and that ring, it was protecting me. I don’t think I’ll ever take it off.”
And there it still is on her finger, a small and simple object that carries great meaning and power.
Old-school medicine will absolutely frown on nurse Cynthia’s actions. After all, as healthcare providers, we’re not supposed to divulge too much of our own personal information, especially nothing about our religion, and we’re definitely not supposed to give gifts to patients. These are all considered professional no-no’s.
Skeptics will scoff at the gift, saying it’s nothing but a fifty-cent bauble, the kind sold at those kiosks you can find around any old cathedral all over the world, and people give them out all the time, so what’s the big deal.
But what they’re all missing is what really happened here: Connection, compassion, and communication. This interaction was what allowed the medical care to happen. Cynthia was not only assigned to the exact right place and time, but she also provided exactly the information and comfort that this patient needed, and in the way the patient needed to hear it. Of all the team members that evening, her role was the most important.
So I went to the records and looked through, hoping to find this nurses’ full name so I could thank her, and especially so I could provide positive feedback to her supervisor. We don’t do that often enough in medicine, recognize and thank people for a job well-done. If we did, there would be a whole lot less burnout, no doubt.
But even after looking through every note and imaging report, I could not find her name. The night was long ago, and so there’s no way to identify Cynthia… Other than as a real hospital angel.