Compassion is not administered in cubic centimeters from a syringe but is found in a river of love that flows from the heart. - Erie Chapman
She crosses the threshold of the Siloam clinic in Nashville holding a wash cloth against the side of her face. She is from Guatemala and speaks no English. A caregiver sees her slumped in the waiting room. "Does she have a toothache?" he worries, because there are no dentists at the Clinic. "Has she received a blow to the face in an auto accident" he wonders next.
He approaches her. Through a translater, the caregiver learns something stunning. Why the wash cloth? "It is to catch my tears," the woman says in Spanish.
Abused by her husband, this woman has no visible physical wounds, but her sadness is intense, deep, and beyond any translation that uses words. The Siloam Clinic does an exquisite job of caring for all kinds of health problems that afflict their largely immigrant patient population. How do they treat sadness, especially when there is the barrier of language?...
As the Loving Care movement continues to advance across the nation
there are increasing challenges that threaten to sidetrack the movement. One of the biggest is convincing
measurement-obsessed leaders that the delivery of compassion is a critical part of healing care. The temptation is to denigrate compassion as, at best, a nice little "customer service" extra and, at worst, useless.
This is a tragic mistake. Compassion is essential because most patients come for care hurting in many different ways. Physical care addresses only one need of the patient. Customer service is a crude notion transferred from the world of department stores that assumes the patient has come to buy a commodity. Customer service is woefully inadequate in addressing the challenge of a patient's grief. What patient's seek, the thing we want for our loved ones and ourselves, is Loving Service.
Compassion is not administered in cubic centimeters from a syringe but is found in a river of love that flows from the heart.
So how do Siloam caregivers do it? They are inspired by the scripture from the Gospel of John about Jesus healing at the Pool of Siloam (left) and they follow the principles outlined in our books, Radical Loving Care and Sacred Work. Among other things, they pay exquisite attention to the hiring process. As a faith-bases charity, they orient staff to "see the face of Christ" in each patient. They spend time praying with patients who wish the presence of prayer. Leaders there, starting with CEO Nancy West and new Medical Director Jim Henderson, M.D. follow the practice of caring for the people who care for people. And they regularly invite staff into caring conversation circles to help enhance all the dimensions of caregiving.
As a result, Siloam, with a beautiful mix of paid staff and caring volunteers, offers loving care that is perfectly balanced with competence and compassion. The tearful woman from Guatemala receives not just medical support, but the engagement of a social worker, the presence of a chaplain, and the warm embrace of the loving arms of all of the Siloam staff. The staff learns the patient's story. Tbey don't see this patient as "that Guatemalan woman," they see her as a child of God and they treat her with respect, skill, and profound presence.
Why can't all hospitals and charities do the same thing? They can. And they needn't be faith-based to bring Love into each encounter. Why don't most organizations run like this? Because there is an inadequate appreciation of how important compassion is to the caregiving process.
We have spoken, in this Journal, about the exponential impact a caregiver can have if she or he approaches a patient's need with love instead of treating it as a commercial-style transaction. Healing caregivers can release curative energy in their patients in a way that, if we could see it on a screen, would be as powerful as an atomic reaction. Atomic power engages a process we call chain reactions so that huge responses can flow from inside tiny particles of energy.
The same is true with loving care. Healing energy can flow from the touch of a hand, the quiet presence of a caring social worker, the prayer of a pastor. The woman from Guatemala received these gifts, and the weight of her sadness has been eased. The staff caught her tears and helped convert them to joy.
This woman entered the clinic crushed by sadness. She left with new hope and a smile on her face. Does this matter? What if this woman was your sister, your mother, your daughter, your friend?