I am a cardiac nurse, so I’m literally in the business of healing hearts. I’ve frequently been told I chose a “selfless profession” and that I must be incredibly compassionate and kind to work as a nurse. At some point (I’m ashamed to admit), I think I began to think of myself as a “good” person by virtue of my chosen profession. Well, recently the Lord used one of my patients to humble me and show me where my own heart needs to be refined to better serve His kingdom.

A few weeks ago, I cared for a man in his early forties originally admitted with active chest pain and palpitations. We typically discharge such patients fairly quickly after ruling out heart attack, acute coronary syndrome, or other conditions requiring further tests or surgical interventions. This particular patient had been medically cleared to go home and was just waiting on a social work/psychiatric meeting to address his morbid obesity, noncompliance taking medications, and to follow up on jokes he’d made about “checking out for good.”

I spent three days responding to this patient’s frequent demands for various drinks and foods outside his dietary recommendations and gritting my teeth through “dumb blonde” jokes and lewd comments he made at my expense. Although I’ve dealt with many difficult and boisterous patients without issue, after being repeatedly demeaned and objectified by this man, I found myself fantasizing about sedating him and venting to my coworkers about him with unnecessary cruelty.

After my last work day, I recounted the nightmarish experience of being his nurse for a few friends over dinner. Later that night, as I reflected on my cold words and bitterness in portraying this patient, God opened my eyes to the intense pain he must be feeling. The loud and abrasive persona thinly veiled his shame regarding his weight and the actual depression underlying his kidding about suicide. I also realized that in the three days I’d been with him, I hadn’t seen this man receive a single visitor or phone call.

The Lord stirred my heart with renewed empathy and compassion, and the next day I resolved to go into work see if the patient was still there. Sure enough, I heard his booming voice as soon as I got off the elevator. He greeted me with a crude comment about how I looked in my street clothes before asking if I was scheduled to work that afternoon. I told him that it was my day off, but that I was there to see how he was doing and to see if I could get him anything from Walgreens or just sit with him while he waited for his evaluations.

Much to my surprise, he thanked me sincerely and began to cry as I offered him my company. I was blessed with the opportunity to learn part of this man’s story and to sit with him in his broken heartedness for a short time that afternoon.

This experience reminded of several things: that I am good only inasmuch as I dwell in and act out of God’s goodness. That I am privileged to be in a vocation in which I care for people’s bodies and souls. And finally, that I need a new heart just as much, if not more than my patients if I am going to love others with Jesus’s love.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekial 36:26)