“I sat where they sat”

waiting room


So remembers the prophet Ezekiel. He had journeyed with his fellow exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon. Refugees from their homeland, Holy City and Temple. Sad and disillusioned people of God. Ezekiel was there with them experiencing the sadness and loneliness they knew. He felt for them. He was beside and with them. As a prophet he felt a human inability to reassure his own people, as he felt he ought. He was vulnerable too.

The experience of cancer. Diagnosis a shock. Going to hospital for many days of treatment. The colour of the gown you are given to wear tells everyone the type of cancer you have. You begin to know each person by name. They were more than patients, real people. Some with scarves. Very young, too young.

It was not all about me. Some smiled, a few chatted. Others silent, sad or meditative. Privacy respected.

Yet there was a sense of solidarity and cheerfulness, a greeting. Weeks of treatment ahead. Some would recover, some not. Some came alone, some with family or a friend. Over time you learned what had happened as a result of their treatment. Remissions, more treatment, hope, death of one known for all too brief a time, all part of the unfolding picture.

The staff, wonderful dedicated people, who greeted you personally, smiled, made you feel OK, amidst those impersonal machines. Respecting your feelings and privacy, yet businesslike in their approach. Genuine professionals in the business of healing.

You were special to them. To the staff you mattered as a person as you occupied the waiting room week-by-week. You were more than a name on a list. Their confidence reassuring your embarrassment and nervousness in strange and revealing attire as you underwent radiation treatment.

You sat day-by-day in that waiting room, a privilege to be with the others. Cancer, a dreadful disease. Many worse off, but you were one in understanding and acceptance of each other.

My mind reflected on the story of Jesus and the widow of Nain. Bereft of her only son and all that meant for a woman in the ancient world. When Jesus came upon her, he understood her plight and was deeply moved.

Over many weeks in this unique community of acceptance, understanding and healing, I learned something of the difference between sympathy and compassion. As I sat where they sat, the difference became real. I am grateful for what this experience taught me. Much to be thankful for. It was, and is, not all about me.

Once a year I return to Peter Mac for tests. My specialist and I are like old friends. He is so dedicated to research and to helping others. I owe him a great deal. I am privileged my recorded data will be used for further research.

Each time I return to Peter Mac I pass the waiting room where so many wait patiently for diagnosis and treatment by such special carers. As I wait I offer a prayer for each.

It was the great physician, theologian, talented organist and missionary Albert  Schweitzer, whose own contribution to healing resulted in his witnessing to, and living out his wonderful dictum – Reverence for Life.

All who serve in the field of healing are witness to that.


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