Listening to Sounds in the ER

by | Jul 1, 2022 | Formation, Reflections

I write this Vincentian Mindwalk fresh from an unplanned 24 hours in our local hospital.

Once home I realized two things.

The first is the difference between hearing sounds and understanding their meaning. (Some may remember an earlier post. “Are we as Church Hard of Hearing… or “Hard of Listening?)

Hearing is the simple physiological act of hearing sounds. 

Listening means to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention, and to give consideration.

The second thing is how listening to the hospital sounds changed the focus of my experience of this recent visit.

From hearing to listening in the ER

A frequent flier

I frequently joke about having achieved frequent flier status at this hospital.

It was about 9:30 PM. In the outer area of the Emergency RoomI sat with at least 25 other people and a TV blaring a mindless program. I could not help “hearing” the sounds of another frequent flier.

I suspect she was about 35 years old. She was standing at the COVID-era plastic window separating intake staff and patients.  Shouting at the topic of her lungs she detailed her woes about the service she was not getting. For some reason, I tried to “listen” to her rather than just be annoyed by the sounds of her disturbance.

What a difference! I began to try to see the situation with God’s eyes.

I became aware that I did not know her “back story”. I tried to listen with the ears of someone who loved her… her mother or especially God. I imagined the “baggage” she carried inside her wounded heart. She was probably in need of much greater healing than any hospital could give her. So much for listening to the cries of the poor!

Waiting for a bed

Eventually, I was moved to a cubicle-like room behind the double doors of the emergency room proper. For the next three hours, one person after another entered the room and asked questions specific to their area of expertise. Finally… I was told I was being admitted.

Then came the wait for a bed. I was lucky. It turned out to be only a three-hour wait!

As I lay there with the door open I could see the parade of people in various uniforms and patients on the occasional gurney being wheeled by.

To distract myself from focusing on myself and my mounting frustration, I tried to imagine the back story of each of these persons. Just thinking about the possibilities helped me realize how I knew little knew.

Then in my mind’s eye, I transported myself to a hospital in Ukraine that had just been hit! I said a very quick thank you that I was safe in this ER.

All this even before I got to my room!

Lessons from listening

I could give many more anecdotes of interaction with patients and staff.  The thread running through them would be the realization that “listening” was much more than “hearing” … and judging. I feel blessed with this unplanned visit!

For starters… I was reminded to not judge people and appreciate how blessed I was to have access to this care.

That in turn led me to think of Pope Francis’ description of wisdomHe writes wisdom is “to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes.”

Learning to Listen

Try to “listen” for the backstory of at least one conversation today. Don’t just “hear” and react.

PS A 4-minute video walks through the lobby and corridors of the Cleveland Clinic Hospital. Closed caption headlines reveal people’s worries, worries evident to a listening person… or God.

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk