"Jesus knew that poverty and disease in themselves are not the hardest things for people to bear; the hardest to bear are the loneliness and the hopelessness that come with being sick or being poor."
-Shusaku Endo, A Life of Jesus
We doctors often poke fun of the service dog. We see the dog-lovers, obsessed with their dogs, bring them around the hospital to visit the sick. What can they do, really? Get in the way, pee on the floor.
In America, various programs offer a safety net, a help, a support, to the poor, the elderly, the sick. As I walk into the hospital every day, I am thankful that the patients can be cared with a high standard with relatively minimal restrictions due to the cost of care. More so since the Accountable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Yet Endo reminds me of what else I see daily: chemicals and surgeries leave a large gap in care, and perhaps inadvertently contribute to it. When the care came out of love and sacrifice in the face of need in the form of a family member, a volunteer caregiver, or a nun, that love and spiritual connection was obvious. When the care comes with a paycheck as a carrot and the threat of liability as a stick, the love is not so obvious, and may be missing altogether.
Thank God for the opportunities to serve those who are suffering. For God still calls His people to love. We should learn from the service dog. Never tempted to suspend presence with the patient to mix a medication or do another x-ray, the service dog is unpretentious to the core. Perhaps if Jesus were here today, he would say: "if any would enter the kingdom of heaven, let him be like one of these service dogs." Sit with the patient. Do not try to cure them, leave that to someone else for a moment. Listen. Empathize. Lay hands on them in prayer and communion, not only to cut them open. They may not live longer because of this. But perhaps they, and us, will become more human.