I was recently in hospital. I will not divulge all the details, but suffice it to say it involved an overnight stay, a transfer and a lot of tests (no surprise on that one).
While there, I was struck by how alone one can feel in a hospital. Even in a crowded ward with doctors bustling about and nurses dashing between patients, I felt quite isolated. One can feel alone in a crowd.
I had a support person with me which helped and for which I am grateful. But even my support person could not be there 24/7. Plus, they needed to sleep, as did I. And there are things that happen in hospitals during which a support person cannot be present.
Even the most brilliant, capable, understanding support person cannot accompany you into a radioactive testing area or a surgical theatre. And even if they could, they cannot take your place. At some point, you have to walk the difficult journey yourself.
And you have to do it alone.
Illness can be quite lonelifying. It heightens one’s awareness of being different to others. One can feel misunderstood or passed over, especially if one’s illness is uncommon. And when one is ill, one has plenty of opportunities to be alone – in medial appointments, in tests and of course in hospitals.
Illness can be lonelifying.
This is the bit where I am going to contradict myself. Because even though there are certain things in life we have to do alone, we do not have to do them alone.
Bear with me.
There is a difference between feeling alone and actually being alone. One can be in a crowded room (like a hospital ward) and feel quite alone in the universe. Conversely, one can be by themselves and feel surrounded by invisible support.
While I was lying in hospital, I was conscious of an entire support team surrounding me in spirit. My family was there. My close friends were present. Church people were praying for me. My support person enclosed me with their love and concern. And God was there too.
An entire support team surrounded me in spirit.
When I came out of hospital, people contacted me to ask how I was doing. People whom I had not reached out to were reaching out to me, checking if I was ok. I was moved by their compassion. Every interested query, every look of concern, every email, every text meant a lot to me.
And it reinforced the idea that I am not alone.
Psalm 23 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4.)
We may be physically alone in the valley. We may have to face the monster of death, alone, unguarded and vulnerable. But we are never alone.
We are never alone. God is with us.
God is with us. His Spirit is with us. As soon as we begin to pray – as soon as our thoughts begin to turn toward him – he is right beside us, ready to listen and help.
For this, and the love of people in my life, I am grateful.
Do you feel alone when you are unwell? Who is supporting you in spirit right now? Share your story – let’s have a countercultural conversation.