Some Lessons I Have Learned About Bikur Cholim

— by Hannah Lee

We human beings learn better, more viscerally, when it is experiential.  A recent convalescence from an injury has taught me some serendipitous lessons in being a patient (wouldn’t “impatient” be a more apt term?) and offering comfort to the sick.

With one leg effectively immobilized, I have learned to get up from a prone position from the floor; throw most non-fragile items down the stairs; bump downstairs on my tush (I never did learn to gauge the distance on the stair treads to do it back upwards); ask for and accept help from all kinds of strangers, including the visiting plumber; and I am still learning to be patient while the requested help– a fetched object, a ride– is being processed and executed.

This injury and convalescence has taught me some important lessons in bikur cholim (comforting the sick):

  • show that you care;
  • do not offer blithe reassurances on prognosis and recovery (you do not really know);
  • do not relate medical horror stories of your own or of others (this is not the time for one-upsmanship or to educate the na├»ve);
  • ask what would give comfort to the invalid (not what you think would give comfort; I’ve learned this lesson before about giving appropriate birthday gifts); and
  • try different ways of making the person feel alive and needed (such as by maintaining the family routines), not just defined by the injury or illness.

More after the jump.
Most of the time we take our bodies for granted and we’re heedless of how fortunate we are that we can awaken each day and have all of our organs and limbs ready to do our bidding.  But when our body fails us, it’s not necessary or helpful to regard it as a punishment, as in what did we do wrong to deserve this trial?.  A more positive, healing perspective is to think of it as a nisayon, a test- for us and for our community and social network.  This could be a test for our neshamah (soul) and of our values.  How do we comfort the sick and help them stay connected and a part of our life?