But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”

~ Matthew 9:12-13

Skin and bones writhed in the bed, fighting for life, gasping for air. The hospital was quiet and dark with the thick silence that lies over everything at night, except in this little corner, surrounded by a curtain.

“No! No!” Mr. D yelled, “I don’t want an IV. Why am I tied down?” He was pulling at the restraints and twisting. In a way, he looked very much alive–like a fish does when it is pulled up and dropped in the bottom of a boat.

I watched the physician deftly giving orders, listening to the patient’s heart and lungs, assessing his mental status, and dispensing advice to the nursing staff as the patient tried to undo everything the team was working to accomplish. He had squirmed out of his gown and was barely covered by a sheet. There were no family members by the bed, and I thought, “This is how man has been dying for thousands of years: naked, alone, fighting for every final breath.”

I felt incredibly removed, trying to avoid being trampled by the traffic surging in and out of the doorway. I looked behind me and caught a glimpse of what was playing on TV. I felt caught in space and time between this corner in the hospital where a naked man was fighting to keep himself alive for just another minute and the beautiful characters on the screen who never even spared a thought for how this was all going to end someday. What was I doing here?

But then I thought, who needs a doctor? Certainly not the well–it is the poor, the naked, the sick, the old. These are the people I set out to serve when I began my journey through medical school. Even though they are not the elite, I want to treat all of my patients with compassion–even the demented, noncompliant ones. They are immensely, intrinsically valuable, even if our society does not see them that way.

But my job does not stop at acknowledging that their life is difficult; my job is learning how I, as a Christian physician, can make my patients’ burdens easier and express to them unconditional love and kindness. It is about serving the people whom I have no desire to serve; the amazing part is when God opens my eyes to see that even under the residual smell of tobacco, vomit, and soiled clothes, there is a beautiful person who is His child!

At that point at Mr. D’s bedside, I want to say that I went forward to take his hand and be with him while the tumult surged around him. But I did not. I was too timid about getting in the way or being scolded by an irascible nurse. I just stood there–mute, trying to learn and absorb so that next time I would know how to move in coordination with the funny dance circling the bed of a dying man.

Next time though, I pray to God that I will see the patient with His eyes. I will take his hand, squeeze it gently and say: “I’m with you; we’re doing everything we can.”

Hayley Hunt, LLUSM class of 2014, is from Carnation, Washington. She graduated from Wheaton College with a BS degree in biology. This story occurred during her third-year internal medical rotation.