Peter phoned to say that the news on his Aunt Camilla was very bleak. The surgeon had phoned to break the bad news, there was a tumour in the liver and he believed that there were secondary cancers in the brain that were causing the confusion and disorientation that Camilla had been experiencing.
I drove to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast to see her. In bed, she seemed very ill, unable to respond to even simple comments. It was sad to see a lady who had led a very simple and independent life for so many years in such a state of distress. Leaving the hospital, I wondered how she would be the next time I called. There could be no hope of improvement.
On a Friday afternoon, three days after the previous call, I drove to Belfast again and walked to the ward asking for grace to cope with whatever lay ahead. I searched the ward. Where was Camilla? Eventually, I caught sight of her, transformed since the previous visit. She was sitting beside her bed, eating ice cream from a dish. The change was so dramatic that it was hard to imagine that this was the same person.
Some months later, when our prayers were answered and she was restored to full health and the surgeon had admitted that he had been baffled by what happened, I said to Camilla. “Did you know how bad the diagnosis was? We were very worried about you”.
Camilla looked at me serenely. “I knew”, she said, “and how do you think I felt?”
“How do you think I felt?” Her words have stuck with me ever since.
I am not a good hospital visitor; I feel faint at the mention of blood and do my best to avoid the sight of it. I dread going into situations where there are wires and tubes. I have a phobia about needles. I tell myself that I will get used to it eventually, but after twenty-one years I feel no more at ease about hospital visiting than I did when I began.
Each time I feel unhappy about walking into a ward, I remember Camilla’s words, “How do you think I felt?” How does the person I am visiting feel? If I am unhappy then they have grounds to feel infinitely worse.
“My grace is sufficient for you”, God says, “for my strength is made perfect in weakness”. I don’t like feeling weak, but perhaps in that weakness there is a chance to communicate something of God’s strength.