I'm not sure what it is, but lately I have had a hard time finding love and compassion for the people I take care of at work. The other day, the wife commented that I don't talk about any of the patients like I used to, people I had developed special bonds with over and above the normal patient-caregiver relationship. Part of this is that until recently our patient census has been down and part is just a personality thing - I haven't really 'clicked' with any of them. But the largest part, the biggest culprit is, I know, this difficulty with compassion.
Some people are easy to take care; they are kind, grateful, in genuine need and complain very little, or at least no more than one would expect of someone in their condition. We have a woman who was involved in a serious car accident which broke her neck. She has some gross motor skills in her arms but is otherwise paralyzed. And she is incredibly needy. She rings her call light about once an hour, if not more, needing to be adjusted, to have a sip of water, have a pillow fluffed or to have a wrinkle pulled out of her sheet. But she is abundantly grateful for these acts and certainly can't do them for herself. Though, admittedly, her constant need can be frustrating at times when there are many other things going on, for the most part, I have no difficulty helping her. It is easy because I am being thanked and because the need is clear and unambiguous. But on the other end of the spectrum we have another woman (I'm not trying to be sexist here, these are just the best polar examples we have right now) who is almost the exact opposite. She was in respiratory failure when she came to us, but was weened from the vent within a couple of weeks and is now with us just to finish up some physical therapy and to make progress on a pressure ulcer on her lower back. She is racist and has called black employees various slurs. Though she can walk and eat and do pretty much everything on her own, she is constantly asking for help on even the smallest tasks. She is crass, manipulative, ungrateful for even large acts of assistance and worst of all (in my book) is a complainer and a whiner. Not only am I unable to find the least bit of compassion for this woman, I actively dislike her. There are perhaps several reasons from my past why this particular personality type bothers me so much, but even without those triggers she is not a likeable person. I dread going into her room when she rings her call light, I hate having to listen to her complaints and serving her is a constant battle against frustration.
And I am cut to the quick by what this reveals about me, the failure of love this represents. If the goal of the Christian life is to be Christ-like then surely I am not. If I am unable to get past my pettiness, to overcome the temptation of frustration and anger and to look on these people as the very image of God, as souls Christ suffered and died for in order to redeem them, what illusion of my own goodness can I possibly maintain? What lies can I tell myself about making these failures up elsewhere or with other patients? There are no excuses, no qualifiers, no mitigating factors - I have failed. But I must not stop there and I will not let that be the end of my story. I see, perhaps more clearly than ever, the great distance I have yet to traverse and I am but taking the first small steps.