Compassion.  About thirty years ago, I must have paid it forward.

In the early 1980’s, I was a nurse working in a busy emergency department. My patient in the GYN room was having a miscarriage.  She had tried for years to get pregnant, and now her baby was bleeding away into nothingness.  She was weeping.  As if on their own, my arms reached for her and she fell into them, sobbing.  I held her as her body shook and tears poured onto the shoulder of my scrubs.

I so hope she became a mother someday.

Fast forward thirty years, and I’m stretched out motionless on the radiation table like a damsel tied to a railroad track.  I must not move.  The radiation beams are precisely targeted so as to not damage my heart or lungs, and every breath I take feels like I’m dangling my precious innards in harm’s way.

My arms are stretched out over my head, held in place by a padded bracket.  It takes about fifteen minutes for the radiation beams to blast down from different angles, destroying cells, burning my skin, sticking my mastectomy scar to my chest wall.  My right arm hurts; the bracket always jams into it and what could be tolerable for three minutes becomes fifteen minutes of shoulder-grinding torture.  My back cramps.  And helpless tears slide out the sides of my eyes into my ears, because I must not move.

It’s finally over.  Steve, my radiation tech, knows something’s up.  I’m quiet and there are tears on the paper-covered slab that serves as a pillow.  “Hey…” he says.  “You’re going through some tough shit right now.  I have a hug if you need one.”

And so it came to pass that thirty years later, the radiation technician held the weeping emergency department nurse as her body shook and tears poured onto the shoulder of his scrubs.

As much as I wanted a successful pregnancy for my patient so long ago, he wants me to survive this cancer and live.  Thanks, Steve.  I want that, too.

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”      I Peter 3:8


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