Shortly after opening the Agape House, my nursing assistant called out sick so I had to work the night shift. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was inexcusably short-tempered and rude to our first patient, Jim.
Jim was 6’3”, 280 lbs and bed-bound, no small task to change his depends, pajamas and sheets while he remained in the bed. In fact, it was similar to a Houdini trick. This dreaded night was even more difficult as he had diarrhea and the trick had to be mastered many times.
Blame it on fatigue, about 4:30 in the morning, as I heard the bell, again, I staggered to Jim’s bedside. I tried to keep my voice steady, “No, really it’s okay. It’s not your fault. Roll over to your side please. Your bottom’s really getting red. Let me get you some cream. . . Okay, now for some fresh sheets. . . ”
It was a long process, a repetitive routine. Jim must have noticed my annoyance because he began apologizing. I tried to assure him that I didn’t mind. But the truth was, I did mind. And worse, it showed. I thought I would vomit if I had to change one more diaper. Jim sensed this in my touch and in my tone.
After tucking him in, as I walked back to the office, hot tears surfaced. I had never experienced such fatigue. Every muscle ached. My body seemed to scream, “Enough !”
My prayer for strength quickly turned to whining, which deteriorated into bellyaching and collapsed into an absolute pity party. Fortunately, I was the only one invited. I have a graduate degree. I’m a professional! Why am I cleaning dirty butts? I’ve been awake for over 24 hours and nobody cares! Woe is me. . . woe is me. . . I’m the only one on earth who cares. . .
In the middle of my pathetic droning, I remembered a poem I had read years earlier. I was so touched by the poem that I created a pattern and cross-stitched it with the hope of one day hanging it in my office.
You know, Lord, how I serve you
With great emotional fervor
In the limelight.
You know how eagerly I speak for You
At a woman’s club.
You know how I effervesce when I promote
A fellowship group.
You know my genuine enthusiasm
At a Bible study.
But how would I react, I wonder
If you pointed to a basin of water
And asked me to wash the calloused feet
Of a bent and wrinkled woman
Day after Day
Month after month
In a room where nobody saw
And nobody knew.
Ruth Harms Cakins
Sitting at my desk after my disgraceful breakdown, I recalled the poem in detail. A poem about an anonymous servant . . . how ironic that I cross-stitched it with the intention of spotlighting it on the wall of my office. Self-defeating and hypocritical. God must grow weary of my stupidity. As I prayed for forgiveness and sincerely asked God to give me a compassionate attitude, Jim’s bell rang . . . again.
This time my voice was lighter and my touch softer as I changed and repositioned him. I made a joke about his derriere favoring a bright red candied apple. He retorted, “Well then kiss my aa. . . ple.” We both laughed and as I tucked the quilt around him, he touched my hand and whispered, “Thank you.”
I kissed his forehead. “No problem, if I am ever as old as dirt like you, I hope someone will be there to clean my aa. . . ple.”He smiled.
As I checked on other patients, a quiet inner-voice reminded me that it’s not about me. Jim had been a successful engineer. He built bridges and traveled the world. Now, he was helpless, completely dependent. As hard as this was for me, it was clearly far more difficult for him. How challenging it must be for a patient to be courteous when he is slowly losing his pride and dignity. It’s obviously more difficult than being a caregiver.
I would like to say that through that long night with Jim, I learned my lesson once and for all. But sadly, I’m a slow learner, and so I’m constantly being mashed and put back on the Potter’s wheel. At least I’m a little more pliable for the Master’s hands now.
Just so you know, Jim remained kind and warm until his passing. He modeled how a strong, respected man should face his last days . . . with grace and dignity, and even a little humor. I still can’t see a candied apple without smiling and remembering sweet Jim.