The Call to Connectedness

In Impacting Patients, She's Touching Lives by Stephanie Baker

He stood tall & erect. A classic, older gentleman whose eyes seemed to pierce right through you with an air of authority that could almost read your thoughts.  He looked down at me, shoulders squared, and sternly said, “Who are you, and where is my usual girl?” I was young and intimidated, but challenged by his forthrightness, so I pivoted. I noticed he had a book under his arm. With knees knocking, I tried to engage him in conversation by asking what he was reading. We discovered a shared affinity for books and had read many of the same authors. His rigid exterior softened somewhat, and he lit up at the discussion of literature. 

By the time our initial appointment was over, we were eagerly making suggested reading recommendations, with verbal book reviews due at our next appointment.  As he was leaving, he turned to me and said, “You know what? You’re alright, kid.”

That was how I made the connection.

Like clockwork, he showed up for his six-month appointment, dressed in slacks and a button-up shirt, and never without a book in hand. Years later, we’d both read a mountain of books and shared personal details about our lives. I learned who had gotten married and of new grandbabies. He heard about my new pastor, and what song I was singing in the Christmas cantata.  He shared fatherly advice as I bemoaned the woes of parenting teens and first-time driver insurance rates. With laughter, we recalled our first meeting, and I was now comfortable enough to share, I felt his bark was much bigger than his bite. As he left that day, it was me who said, “You know what? You’re alright, kid.” He laughed and hugged me goodbye. 

Months turned into years, and whenever I saw Grover’s name on my schedule, I always smiled. We’d developed a strong connection. Without a doubt, he was one of my favorites. Sometimes the most unlikely people surprise you and crawl right into your heart. 

Sad news

One particular day, he seemed less chatty than usual but still participated in the banter. As we stood to exit the operatory, he placed his hands on my shoulders and said, “I need a few extra moments with you today. Is that okay?” He told me how special I was and that I was created to touch lives. I sensed his serious tone and was attentive to his words. He proceeded to tell me he’d been given less than six months to live. Cancer. I was speechless.

“I know I didn’t necessarily have to come in today, but I came in solely to tell you what an impact you’ve had on my life.” He went on about how special our connection was and how he looked forward to our visits. We both cried and shared a long hug and goodbye. “I’m going to beat you to heaven, but I’ll be waiting for you when it’s your time.” 

Grover passed away about four weeks later.

I called and shared that story with his son, whom I’d never met. He was shocked to learn of his father’s tenderness. By his own definition, his father was a profoundly stoic and hard man. He asked if I would attend the funeral and share that story, so I did. 

I’ve heard connection defined as a moment of shared affinity. A simple connection made through books brought one of the most impactful patient interactions I’ve ever experienced. Simply sharing my story connected me to every person at that funeral service. It didn’t matter; we were complete strangers. We connected through our grief. Tears flowed freely in response to the story, as they do now at the sweet memory. 

The internet has enhanced our ability to connect beyond geographical borders, and Covid-19 has intensified its significance. Although business has slowed, it would’ve completely halted, had it not been for the internet. Social media allows us to stay connected digitally.  

Appreciation for Human connection

However, in this digital age, more than ever, we must remember to live in the moment, and not in our media. I pray social distancing if it taught us anything, has given us a renewed appreciation for the value of human connection. I miss handshakes and hugs and the smile of a stranger as he passes by. Eyes may twinkle with their corners creased above the mask, but the warmth conveyed by a smile can not be replicated. 

To be heard and understood is a special kind of intimacy known as connectivity, even in the absence of words. There is power in profound connection, and in a polarized world, may we remember the deep richness and unity found through connectedness.