Anything But Routine

And so you care for them as one of your own family members.  Because now you know the truth:  There is a thin line between “them” and “us.”


Article by Malcolm Marler


Even though I work at an adult Level 1 trauma hospital, my work can still be routine at times.


In the Pastoral Care department, we are usually called during critical times with patients and families, as well as making routine visits on various units.  This happens every day.  It is all part of what we do as healthcare workers.


But when you are on the receiving side of the care giving equation in the hospital, it is anything but routine


Malcolm, I’ve had an accident,” he said.  ”Are you hurt?” I quickly asked while thanking God it was his voice calling me from his cell phone and not a state trooper.  ”I’m hurt a little, but the car is bad,” he offered apologetically.  At this point you realize just how insignificant a ton of steel and leather really is.  You can find another car.  Where are you?  I’ll be right there,” I said as I hung up the phone.


My emotions bounce like a float bobbing on the ocean when a hurricane is on the horizon.  After what seems like an eternity, medical professionals make the decision to put him on a helicopter to get him the help he needs as quickly as possible.  He’s flown by helicopter to the hospital where I work…


You listen for any encouraging, hope-filled words, and you hang on to those words by repeating them over and over to one another…


The Emergency Department springs into action with its own finely-tuned routine, with different specialists coming in and out of the room, examining, asking questions, and explaining treatments and diagnoses.  MRI’s, X-rays, and tests are repeated over and over again.


After a while, you feel numb and your head swims, and you can’t remember what that second doctor said, or was that the fourth one?  But I do remember the young nurse in the ER who stood just outside the room with my wife and took the time to listen to fears, questions, and anxieties that were shared.


Finally, a plan is announced and surgery is scheduled.  It is the first of many nights where you will be deprived of the sleep your body craves.  Simple, routine tasks like deciding which clothes to throw into a bag for the next day are amazingly challenging. After being at the hospital and sleeping in shifts for an hour or two at a time on a fold-out couch, you say thank you to the hospital nurses, doctors, and chaplains.  It never seems like enough.


You stare at one another, sometimes with fear and tears, and other times with thanksgiving and gratitude.  The experience is surreal.  But you know better…


This time, our loved one will be ok after many weeks of convalescence at home.


And I can’t stop saying under my breath, “Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God.”


Many other patients and families are not so fortunate.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps there is no reason as some well meaning friends tried to explain.  Some are paralyzed.  Some die.  I remember feeling guilty when I looked across the hall in the ER and saw a family like us with their faces in their hands as they tried to absorb the worst news that all of us feared.


And then the day comes when you become one of the healthcare workers again instead of a family member of a patient.


But you’re changed this time.


Sure enough, I walked into the hospital as a chaplain my first day back, the first family I met with was one who had an even more serious automobile accident than my family member had experienced a few days earlier.


I remember this time that nothing is routine … for them or for me.


And so you care for them as one of your own family members.  Because now you know the truth:  There is a thin line between “them” and “us.”




that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.
-Psalm 30:11-12 (NIV)


Malcolm Marler is Director of Pastoral Care for UAB Hospital in Birmingham, AL.  In addition to his interest in spirituality and health, he loves to identify physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of persons, then design and build programs that help meet those needs.  His warmth and humor along with his powerful message of hope and grace is his greatest strength.  Malcolm grew up in Alabama and attended Clemson University (S.C.) on a football scholarship as a defensive back where he graduated with a B.A. degree in Psychology.  He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY with Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees.  Malcolm lives on a lake in North Alabama with the love of his life, Mary Bea Sullivan.  He has two open-hearted, loving stepchildren, Brendan and Kiki who are both freshman in college.  For more information or to contact Malcolm, please visit


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Posted on 2 December, 2009 in Gratitude, Helping Others, Inspirational Stories
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