By Chaplain Franklin Sasser
“Lord, when did we see thee sick … and visit thee” … “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
– Matthew 25:27-46
It was a routine visit that changed when I arrived at the door of my parishioner’s hospital room. “Please, see nurse prior to entering.”
I walked to the nurses’ station. The D.O.N. was summoned. We had known one another for years. We were on a first name basis. Well, I was. She was properly addressed. She and her husband were older than my parents. He was a fellow pastor serving a church of another denomination in the village in which we all lived.
In a most somber tone, she greeted me. We exchanged subdued pleasantries, and she said, “Franklin, he is on isolation. If you want to go in, I will help you suit up. You have been into isolation many times, but I would rather you didn’t go this time. We don’t know what he’s got, and I would rather you didn’t go in.” I trusted her.
I had visited patients on isolation numerous times. I have visited patients who were not on isolation, but after my visit it was discovered they had communicative maladies like meningitis and tuberculosis. I have been required to report to my doctor and the health department. Such are the occupational hazards of a parish minister.
That D.O.N. had looked after me. She had my health in mind. I remember her compassion not only for her patient, but also for me. Years later fate would take a different turn.
“Miss” Mildred was dying in one of the large teaching hospitals here in Georgia. I arrived at the door to her room. “Please, see nurse prior to entering.”
She was not on isolation for my benefit. I entered a real isolation room in a large hospital. I stepped into the anteroom and saw her through the window and glass door. I donned a gown, a mask, a cap, gloves and shoe covers.
In my soft suit of armor I went in and sat quietly beside her bed. She made no response to my presence. She was hours from death. I thought back on the years I had known her and the preacher who would survive her. He had welcomed me so soon after my arrival that I was sweeping out the rental truck that had transported my belongings from seminary. I thought most about the day she advised me not to go into that isolation room. I thought about her compassion not only for her patient but also for me. It is still humbling to know that someone cared that much for me.
In her isolation room I do not think she knew of my presence. It gives me an element of fulfillment to know that I was there. In a shift of time and perspective I came to display compassion to her as she had to me. I am not sure we can really have clinical isolation. We just have different contexts of contact.
Currently we are all on some sort of isolation. I am seeing patients on their porch. I am seeing some through closed windows in the same way I am seeing my mother. I have visited a couple of old friends on the lawn. There are still others whom I cannot visit, but there are other creative ways I can show compassion.
“There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” (Ecclesiastes 3:5) We can show compassion by embracing, but sometimes the greater compassion is to refrain.
Note: Permission to publish these stories was gained from the family of “Miss” Mildred, even though HIPPA does not apply.