The Same Kind of Sufferance As Me

I found myself yesterday for over 12 hours in the emergency room at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Hospital with my mom who was diagnosed with cancer last spring.  Because of the Christmas holiday season, the hospital was at 103 percent capacity.  Doctors were not following the regular admitting process after seeing their patients.  Instead, they were routing patients through the emergency center with the idea that the patient would receive faster service.   This created a huge backlog of very ill people in a small, concentrated area for many hours.

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Mom and I settled in for the long stay in the back area of the waiting room as we witnessed patient after patient with family members or friends in tow to endure the hours together with the goal of finding at least some momentary relief from the pain and advance of their cancer.  A giant black man sitting in a wheelchair soon flanked me to my immediate right.  He appeared to be his 70’s, accompanied by his two buddies who had delivered him to the emergency room.  To our left was an extremely ill woman whose body was little more than a skeleton with skin.  She was lying on a hospital gurney wheeled against the wall to wait in agony with her vomit bag resting on her caved chest.  Across the isle from us were more cancer patients, all waiting, hoping for their number to come up soon in the computer in order to receive their treatment.

It was hard to ignore the multiple conversations in such a tight space.  My ear tuned into the conversation to my right between this big black man and his friends.  While I was entertained by much of what was said about how much he could or could not fill his bucket on a daily basis, I gathered the wheelchair bound man had kidney issues caused by his cancer.  I listened to the men talk about the topic for some time, and I tried to find humor in the subject because the rest of the room was over-shadowed with such pain and, for a few, imminent death.

I found it difficult not to stare or engage with my eyes but this man to my right was such a large person with a deep, gentle voice, I felt wooed by the conversation.  After a while, the triage nurse called this man’s name, Roy.   His friend pushed his wheelchair to the door of the triage room, passing him off to the nurse.  The friend came back and sat in his chair with the other man next to him.  After a few minutes, a hospital advocate walked over to our area and began to explain that Roy was experiencing severe kidney failure and asked the men if one of them had planned to stay with him during his time in the ER.  They both looked at her surprised and each one said “no” that they had things to do and would be leaving him alone.  The advocate sternly expressed to them that Roy seemed to be scared to be left alone but her words failed to change the friend’s decisions to leave Roy alone.  I then began to feel a tug in my heart toward this lone, ill man.

I will confess that I did not want to get involved.  I am like most in that I don’t go around looking for opportunities to interact with the marginalized and oppressed.  I don’t want to experience their shame, get my hands dirty or become entangled in the life of one of these needy people because doing so may cost me some inconvenience or worse, my reputation.  I read a book several years ago that made a huge impact on my life in how I viewed people who are different than me.  The title of the book is The Same Kind of Different As Me.   It’s a true story of how a high society art dealer with my same view of keeping a safe distance from the marginalized actually engaged directly with a dangerous homeless drifter and through his months of involvement realized that the two of them were the same kind with little difference between them.  We are all the same in the eyes of Jesus.  I thought intently about this as I watched Roy’s buddies walk out of the hospital leaving him alone in his fear.  I picked up my phone to send a text to my husband, Bill, to tell him that I was in the middle of  a “same kind of different as me” moment.  Something very unusual happened as I typed the word different, the auto-fill on my phone delivered the text with the word “sufferance”.   I was stunned as I glared at the sent text on phone screen – same kind of sufferance as me.  My thoughts began to stir.   Sufferance is by definition, “patient endurance of pain or distress without interference”.

Jesus calls us to be like him.  He calls us to a life that shares in sufferance.  For many yesterday at MD Anderson, sufferance was through cancer but for me, sufferance was in entering into the life of a needy man, to share in his fear and loneliness.  I began to process more deeply the same kind of sufferance that so many in the room around me were baring.  Myself, a cancer survivor, I can identify a little with some of their sufferance.  However, I didn’t loose my hair like my mom, or my body didn’t shrivel up on a gurney, or I wasn’t abandoned at the hospital by my friends in the emergency room like Roy to fight the cancer fear alone.  I’m extremely grateful that I did not have to endure these types of suffering during my cancer journey.

For six hours, in my safe chair against the wall, I continued to ponder the word sufferance.  I decided to walk across the room from where I sat to check on my mom’s schedule at the nurse’s desk.   The triage nurse had parked Roy in his wheelchair in front of the admitting desk.  He sat patiently holding his wooden cane across his island-sized lap.  My back was turned away from him when I heard him ask the nurse if he could get a cookie from the volunteer snack cart.  It was at that split second that I had to decide if I was going to participate in the same kind of sufferance of Christ or continue to maintain my secure distance filled with worry of loss of reputation.  I turned around to fix my gaze on Roy and bent over with my face in his face.  His big, soulful eyes filled with tears as I asked him if he had eaten today to which he answered, “no ma’am”.

I patted his knee and told him I would return with a hot meal and to save the cookies for dessert.  Handing the cafeteria cashier ten bucks for a stranger’s meal was much easier than engaging with this poor, needy man.  I placed his meal on a table near where my mom and I were sitting.   I then walked across the floor for Roy.   Wrapping my fingers around the handles of Roy’s wheelchair, I took a prayerful breath to surrender my reputation and began the short journey of sufferance across the waiting room.   I began identifying with Roy,  a poor, marginalized, man in need of a friend.  I carried the weight of his burden as I rolled him to the other side of the room and in doing so, I realized that through the sufferance of Christ, Roy is the same kind of different as me.

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About Sandy Byrd

I am a wife, mom, grandmother, aka "Honey". I am passionate about my role in life. I love to share my faith in Jesus Christ and His great love for all people. My writings are personal and come from my heart as I hope to share my vulnerable thoughts, struggles, and celebrations with you.
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12 Responses to The Same Kind of Sufferance As Me

  1. Patsy Jordan says:

    That is a great Blog. I love the photo. Thanks for sharing. I have the book that you referred to but have never read it. That will be a New Year priority. Your Mom looks great!

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  2. Gail Beach says:

    You always write so vividly and take me back to what we should be doing for those God puts in our paths. How is your Mom doing? We’re heading to Colorado today to spend Christmas with my family. All but Tracey will be there. Merry Christmas! Love ya

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  3. Katherine Stern says:

    I want to be like you.

    >

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  4. Cathy Marshall says:

    My eyes are filled with tears. Thank you for acting as Jesus would for this stranger. You are a Good Samaritan. Lord bless you.

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  5. Barbara pruitt says:

    How beautiful! Tears in my eyes. I pray that I would react the same way and not allow the opportunity to be Christ to a lonely hurting soul to pass by.

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  6. Daphne says:

    This is so beautiful, Sandra, but so are you! You say you hold yourself apart but you seem to be reaching out to others constantly! God is smiling down on His humble servant. Have a blessed Christmas season ❤

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  7. Mary Ann Davis says:

    What a blessing you were to that man. Today Ronnie picked up a guy walking along IH 10. As they talked he realized it was the same guy he and Donnie picked up another time. The man made Ronnie an angle cross from things from his bag. (I wish I knew how to put a picture here for you to see) Ronnie got him some food, a room, and took him some clean clothes. The man told Ronnie it will be the first time in 3 months he would be sleeping in a bed. You never know how far a little kindness goes and how awesome it is when we let the light of Jesus shine through us.

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  8. Lori Schusterman says:

    Sandy,
    You are a dear and lover of our Lord Jesus Christ. The difference you made was immense… Thank you for obeying Christ.
    Merry Christmas in spite of our trials because Christ provided the victory on the awful/wonderful for us cross,
    Lori Schusterman

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  9. Woody says:

    You are awesome — thanks for sharing the story!! I strongly believe from personal experience that He gives us these types of experiences so we can see more of Him.

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  10. Tomi Oliver says:

    Hoping I can be as available to God as you are!

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  11. Kavin says:

    Sandy….my heart is touched by your story. It is so easy for us to isolate ourselves from others and their pain, afraid of what involvement on our parts might entail. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your love for others. I will be lifting your mom up in prayer….love you!

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  12. Rox says:

    Sandy, thank you so much for sharing this story. I read it to Lloyd in the car after church a few days ago and it spoke volumes to both of us. The love of Christ is beautiful on you. Hope your Christmas was joyful. Have a wonderful New Year sweet sister. We love you.

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