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When Thirty Seconds Are Enough 

by Delton Krueger

Recently it became my turn to receive attention from caregivers after many years of giving pastoral spiritual care to others. The occasion was a radical prostatectomy. This was my first time to be personally involved in the unique experience of recovery from major surgery.

In those hospital days immediately after surgery, I could think only of myself and how my body would deal with the next few minutes of life. Nurses, doctors and their associates were working hard to keep up with urgent needs of many patients. Family members and friends were coming to visit and doing their best to fit in with the hospital way of life.

In this high pressure situation, spiritual needs long for attention. People who care deeply, bring a spiritual and faithful presence that restores the one who is working at recovery. However, caregivers may question the value of their efforts in the midst of intense medical activities. My experience says that recovery is given spiritual meaning by the people who come.

Recovery is hard work. It is helpful to think of the energy being expended by all those involved in surgical recovery. The person in the hospital bed who appears to be so quiet is, in fact, working the hardest of all. Intense effort is being given to reorganize and reassemble a life. The body has been violated and its defenses as well as healing mechanisms put into action.

There is little energy available to respond to staff or visitors. It may appear that the person in the bed is distant, remote and uninterested in those who come to show their support. Paying attention to a visitor for thirty seconds can seem like an eternity to the one who is on sedatives and unable to move about due to IV tubes, catheters and other devices.

In the midst of the hard work of recovery from surgery, there can be brief moments when caregiving people speak the name of the person in the bed, says their own name, gives a word of encouragement and then leaves the room or stays quietly nearby.

Jews and Christians, in particular, speak of such an event as "Sabbath rest". It is reminiscent of the Biblical Genesis account of God placing the Sabbath as a rest in the creation process. These moments offer the recovering one opportunity to connect with another person and take a break from overwhelming personal concerns. Spiritual renewal takes its place in the healing of a life.

Such Sabbath rest moments will be remembered and rehearsed by the recovering person when nights are long and sleep won't come. Such brief encounters are a major investment in the health of the one who has undergone surgery. Caregivers can be assured that their presence is an important part of recovery.

The caregiver says, "What shall I say or do?" The recovering person says, "Say my name; say your name; encourage me. Then let me be quiet. My work of recovery continues. Come back again. Thank you."

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