The Hand of Mercy
As a little child, Mercy had stood in the hospital waiting room,
disappointed that she couldn’t accompany her father any further. More
than anything, she longed to be twelve years old. Then she’d be able to
go with her preacher papa on his visits to the sick.
In the meantime, she observed. The aroma of cleanliness, similar to the
fragrance when her mama opened up a band-aid to put on her knee, filled
the air. How Mercy loved to take deep breaths of it! She also pondered
the hushed atmosphere that was broken only by a distant monotone bell
sound (Mama explained that hospital people understood what the pattern of
tones meant). If Mercy could have put it into words, everything around
her indicated she was in a sanctuary, a sacred place.
High above her, Mercy noticed a near life-size painting hanging on the
wall. Her heart went out to the sick man lying there. Behind his bed,
Mercy could make out a translucent image in the drapes. She knew this
image represented Jesus, with his hands of blessing extended toward the
man in the bed.
But, what really held Mercy’s attention was the woman in white at the
side of the bed, a nurse’s cap atop her dark hair. She bent slightly over
the man, her gentle hand on his brow. THAT was what Mercy wanted to be
when she grew up. Somehow, she understood that the nurse in the painting
connected Jesus to the patient.
While she grew, waiting to be older, Mercy ministered where she found
opportunity. Sundays, after preaching three sermons before noon, her dad
often came home with a headache. As he lay on the living room couch, his
arm across his eyes to block the light, Mercy went to her mother to ask
for a Kleenex. Folded the long way, with Mercy’s red crayon cross drawn
in the center, it made a good imitation of a nurse’s cap, bobby-pinned
over her own dark hair.
Standing beside the couch, Mercy stroked the silver-tinged hair back from
her father’s forehead so she could rest her hand there.
“Is it all better, now, Daddy?” She rather expected instant healing.
Daddy moved his arm and briefly smiled up at her. “Yes, Mercy, that’s
much better.” And so she kept vigil until Mama called the family to
When the day came that she could finally leave home for nurses’ training,
Mercy’s joy was unspeakable. The torment of once again having to wait
until she learned enough to do patient care was broken by a hospital
school-of-nursing tradition. Every evening after supper, the students
left the dining room in small groups, each group bound for one of the
wards in the hospital. There, around an old upright piano at the nurses'
station, the students sang three or four hymns for the patients residing
on that ward.
Finally, Mercy knew enough to work with her instructor in hands-on
patient care. She was rather shocked and a bit dismayed that nursing
entailed much more than a cool hand on a fevered brow! Some of her work
involved unpleasant things she had to do to and for her patients.
From nurses’ training, Mercy’s first job challenged her to new
responsibilities. She cared for women and their babies through labor and
delivery. Then, because she’d read all the Cherry Ames books she could
get her hands on, she knew, like the fictional heroine, she wanted to be
an army nurse. Forever after, she said soldiers, salvaged from combat,
were her best patients in the whole wide world.
But it was caring for people in their final moments that brought Mercy
back to the painting that had inspired her life. When nothing more could
be done to bring comfort and healing, the most important role of all for
Mercy was just to be there. Like the nurse in the illustration, Mercy
could finally do what she loved best. Placing a cool hand on her
patient’s brow, she could whisper words of comfort, “I’m here. And Jesus
is here with you. You are not alone.” To Mercy, being present to give
that final earthly touch meant more than words could tell.
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