What The ER Staff Taught Me About Compassion

Last week, I spent three hours in the emergency room. My husband was in a bicycle accident. An aggressive Canada goose flew up into his face, catching him by surprise and causing him to fall. He landed on the grass and had the wind knocked out of him. He didn’t think he’d broken anything and rode his bike home, but by the time he reached our house, he was in serious pain. How serious? It took maybe fifteen minutes to talk him into going to the hospital.

Kurt in the ER (after he learned he didn't puncture a lung but before we realized he'd cracked some ribs).
Kurt in the ER (after he learned he didn’t puncture a lung but before we realized he’d cracked some ribs).

Once we were in the ER, I felt much better. I knew something serious could be wrong with Kurt, but I also knew we were in the right place to deal with it. Looking back, I realize how much the caring hospital staff had to do with making me feel so confident.

Our nurse and doctor listened to us carefully. They believed us when we told them a goose had knocked Kurt off his bike, even though they had never had a case like his before. They gave Kurt the amount of pain killer he wanted and no more. They paid attention to the note on his chart about his father’s allergy to opiates, were conservative in administering morphine, and vigilant in watching for any sign of trouble as it took effect. They even laughed at our bad jokes.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so well-cared for, and to have it be in such a scary situation, where Kurt’s possible injuries included a punctured lung, broken ribs, and crushed organs, made it all the more valuable to me. The hospital staff was wonderful, from the doctor who explained our options and helped us make decisions about Kurt’s care to the volunteer who came by to see if I needed a drink or snack. I trusted everyone we met and felt held up by their knowledge and their desire to help us.

The staff built a connection with us through their compassionate approach to our situation. They were respectful, understanding, and patient. When Kurt’s x-ray showed his lung was fine, the doctor said we could go home. But Kurt was terribly dizzy the first time he stood up, and the nurse put him back on monitors and kept us for another 20 minutes, giving him time to recover and to make sure that the morphine, which was the likely culprit, wasn’t causing him more serious issues.

I want to give the hospital staff all the credit for how things went, but there is more to it than their eagerness to help. I also had to be willing to be helped. Fear for Kurt made it easier for me to trust strangers and accept their help. I dropped my usual barriers and found myself feeling part of the human race, connected to those around me, even those that were strangers.

The connection was so deep that I nearly went into the unit next to ours. We could easily hear the older couple talking through the curtain walls. The husband had fallen and broken a hip. He needed surgery and was in the process of being admitted to the hospital. The wife was confused and unwilling to leave her husband, although she would eventually have to go home. Compassion welled up in me as I listened. Before I knew that Kurt wouldn’t need surgery, I was faced with the same painful thought — that I might have to go home alone.

I didn’t go into the other room. There was no need. The staff was on hand to help those two through their challenges and they were much better equipped to do so than I was. But my heart longed to do it. Having received so much comfort, I wanted to share it. Maybe that is the greatest thing about compassion. If we can just be open to it and receive it, we will be eager to give it in return.

When have you been grateful to accept the help of others?

Note for the curious: We know now that Kurt definitely cracked some ribs, but otherwise he is fine.

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about connecting. To see a list of other posts on connecting and compassion, click here.

Author: Kit Dunsmore

Kit is a writer and an artist who adores living in Colorado. Whether she's hiking in the mountains or walking the prairies, she's always watching the wildlife in order to learn more about the natural world.

6 thoughts on “What The ER Staff Taught Me About Compassion”

  1. What an ordeal, Kit! Oh my….crazy geese, ha! Who knew they could be so aggressive? So glad you had such a positive, uplifting experience with the staff. Your poor hubby! 🙂 XO Shelah

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    1. Geese are super protective of their nests and their offspring. They nest all around Kurt’s office building and I’ve been afraid of walking by them in the past. I’m not surprised about the attack, just sorry for the results.

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  2. Seriously sucky about the goose. Yes, they’re protective of their nests (the library cordons off an area around its doors with “caution” tape and warning signs each spring), but geese also are BIGGER than one would think, and assertive, sometimes aggressive. Geese terrified my mother when she was young.

    Ribs HURT. Hope Kurt feels very much better, very soon.

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    1. Thanks, Deb. Kurt is already started to improve, although I think being pain-free is a ways off yet. We’re doing what we can to speed his recovery.

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