Blood and Empathy
June 29, 2017 | by: Sharon Bruce | 2 Comments
At work, we get a free health screening every year. The conference room is turned into a makeshift clinic with stations for various blood screenings, weight, height and BMI measurements, and health coaching.
That first station is the one that gets me. I have a little thing about needles. At my first screening a year or two ago, I asked to lie down on a table for the finger prick so I wouldn’t faint. This year I thought, no, it’s just a prick. I’m not going to embarrass myself by asking to lie on a table for a finger prick. I’ll be fine.
I got this.
Things started out well. I told the nurse as a courtesy that I get a little woozy with needles (I find medical professionals appreciate knowing ahead of time that you might spontaneously lose consciousness). She understood, made sure I was okay and proceeded to make small talk, punctuated with an occasional, “You still breathing?” Before I could register what was going on, the alcohol was applied, finger pricked, and blood was flowing. This is my kind of blood draw. I don’t want to watch, I don’t want the “little sting” warning, I have no interest in the process. She kept me as ignorant as possible. The woman is good.
I got this.
As she drew the blood into the straws, she shared with me that she hates needles too. “When I was a kid they would hold me down for a shot or blood test. I’ve never been able to shake it from my mind.” I thought back to my childhood, my poor mom having to hold me screaming in her lap while an almost equally traumatized pediatric nurse attempted to get a blood sample.
“You still breathing?”
She went on, saying when she last had blood work, the phlebotomist had trouble finding a vein. “I was hoping he wouldn’t be digging around with the needle looking for it.” Then her voice got sort of distant, and everything sounded muffled, like I was under water.
I don’t got this.
“I need to lie down.”
I was guided to the floor, my feet placed on a chair. As I lay there, my hearing came back and the nurses and I chatted away. Then I sat up and eventually went back to my chair for the blood pressure test (a whopping 82/54, as the needle had apparently deflated me) and got on with the rest of the screening. I was given a clean bill of health and sent on my way, but not before the health coach whispered to me, “Your blood pressure is really low. You should eat something.”
The next day this episode came to mind and I thought how ironic it was that the woman who drew my blood so deftly was afraid of needles. At first it struck me as comical: she might be in the wrong line of work. Then it occurred to me; she is the perfect person for that position. I have a sense of humor about the needle thing, but it is a bit embarrassing to have to request to lay down to prevent my body from going into shock over a pin prick, and even more embarrassing when things actually start to go black. It’s a very public display of weakness. I know I’m not in danger. Emotionally, I don’t feel the terror I felt as a little kid and I’m quite composed. Still, my brain betrays me and down I go. What kindness the nurse showed in sharing that she knew exactly how I felt. With all her education and experience in her profession, she was still subject to the same fear as me.
Sometimes we are just afraid.
We humans long to know we aren’t alone in our frailty and yet our fear of confessing frailty keeps us trapped in a sort of solitary confinement. Satan loves to whisper the lie, “You are the only one that…” Fill in your own blank.
Scripture reminds us again and again that we are not alone, and reminds us to remind each other we are not alone:
1 Peter 5: 7-9: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Hebrews 4:15: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are―yet he did not sin.
1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Galatians 6:2: Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:11: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Lately God has been showing me a great mercy in reminding me that frailty is not a burden for me to carry alone. In the last few months I have had to reach out to friends for help when my body and my spirit were run down. I have been there in the same way for others. The health screening adventure was just another reminder: there are times when we won’t be strong enough to stay upright. Sometimes even the small circumstances of life can knock us down. Things that “shouldn’t” be a big deal, things that we “should” be able to handle, knock us sideways. We need each other to break the fall when we can no longer stand, and to steady us as we regain our strength to continue the walk. Some days we steady the one next to us; some days it’s our own knees that buckle. The roles will reverse and reverse again. In those reversals, God gives us the chance to love and be loved, and to know His love better through the work of His body.
Sharon Bruce, a current CG leader at Restoration, traded her childhood desert mountains for beaches and green. Her lush backyard garden plants display a marked respect for her Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. Sharon’s love for God and compassion for His creation shout loudest in her artwork, in her caring friendship, and in her willingness to gently re-home a slimy frog from a friend’s front porch Bromeliad to the river three miles away.