On Empathy

As Rick wrote here, the doctors at Northwestern wanted to make it very clear that this surgery had absolutely no benefit for me. Dr. Baker stressed that they each had to struggle with the ethics of this surgery and the hippocratic oath. They vow to “first do no harm” and yet they are cutting into a perfectly healthy patient for not benefit to that patient.

As we went through the decision making process and Rick and I talked through all of this Rick was way more focused on the risk than I was. I’m not a big risk taker normally. I don’t drive fast or rock climb or jump out of airplanes. I lead a fairly boring life in the adventure/risk-taking category. But it occurred to me that when most people face a decision about surgery the risk usually fades away because the benefit is so great. Either something inside you is making you very very ill (an appendix or a gall bladder for instance) and must be removed or there’s an inappropriate growth, a cancer, that will kill you if it’s not removed. Or sometimes there is just a high level of pain and a loss of function, like with my daughter Meagan who had shoulder surgery in December. In these circumstances you  make a decision that the surgery is worth the risk because you really can’t go on living with the problem.

It reminds me of when I was in labor with my first child, Andrew and they handed me a clipboard with forms to sign that I acknowledge the risks of delivery and the risks of a C-section should I need one. Rick quipped, “Well what’s the risk of leaving it in there?” There’s a risk to childbirth but that’s not what you’re focused on at that moment!

For this surgery the benefit was to someone else. To Gay. And to me that benefit to her felt pretty much the same as a benefit to me. It took Rick a little longer to get there than me. And that’s okay. I don’t think everyone should just jump blindly into a surgery like this. But seeing someone else’s need (or benefit) as your own is empathy.

Now before you give me all sorts of humanitarian, spiritual credit for being empathetic I should disclose that on the Strengthsfinder test empathy is one of my top five strengths. I’m just wired that way. Or rather God just wired me that way. Yes, I think everyone can grow in their empathy and yes, I think everyone should have some. (Those that have no empathy are called sociopaths!)

So some of us naturally are more empathetic than others. At the same time God calls us to empathy when He commands us to bear one another’s burdens and restore a brother caught in a transgression. So I encourage all of you to think about how you can feel another’s pain and consider their benefit your benefit. You certainly don’t have to undergo an invasive surgical procedure to do that.

All reports are that Gay is doing well. She’s looking forward to getting her staples out next Wednesday. She has 68, which makes my wimpy little incision look quite small. Continue to pray for her healing.

And Rick posted here yesterday.

Thanks! ~Sonya


4 thoughts on “On Empathy

  1. You inherited your empathy, my dear. You know your Dad who has far more than I do. But being a mother helps, too. We are so proud of your responding to a need with God’s guidance and source of strength. It was really hard for us not to be there, but we were in almost constant prayer the a.m. of surgery. Being medically oriented, as you know, one can think of all the possibilities. I’m so glad you are home!

  2. Well said, Sonya, and so challenging too. To see someone else’s benefit as your own… I am glad Jesus viewed the Cross in this way. Love, Miriam

  3. Pingback: the gift of friends | rickhove

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