I was going to be electrocuted.
Either that, or my friend, Chris, was going to see me naked.
I wasn’t sure which one was worse.
After hesitantly following a nurse into a Hungarian hospital testing room in 1995, those were my thoughts. Windows were open, people were walking by, looking in, and the out-going patient was unconcerned while she bared her body to us all.
As I stood gaping, several things ran through my mind. Not the least of which was that my fellow American hospital companion, Chris, was next on the list to be called back to this room. Whatever reason I was about to undress, my friend, a man, was going to see me naked.
No-no-no-no-no. I grew up going to Amy Grant concerts, wearing one-piece bathing suits, and making (mostly) the good choices my parents raised me to make. The thought of Chris walking in, seeing me exposed, was enough to make my brain explode.
The nurse dragged me out of my anxious thoughts with her Hungarian instructions. Through primitive sign language, she directed me to undress from the waist up and stand next to the table near her.
Long, beige curtains covered the windows. But when the breeze blew them out of place, anyone walking on the wrap-around porch could see straight into the room. Or, consequently, anyone riding a motorcycle, I thought to myself as one passed by.
Gulping, I disrobed, and approached the nurse.
She took a wide, plastic band, and wrapped it around my bare chest. Then she used what looked like an alligator clip, and clamped it in place.
My breaths were short and quick.
The nurse directed me to lay on the table. She picked up metal, claw-like devices. Only these had homemade-sewn covers of different, fading, fabric patters.
In horror, I watched as she attached each one. Left ankle. Right ankle. Left wrist. Right wrist.
Dear. Lord. What was happening?
This was it. This was how I was going to die. Electrocuted in an eastern European hospital.
Sweat broke out over my brow as she talked to me. I have no idea what she said. What I do know is that she clicked on the machine next to her, and I thought I was going to meet Jesus. And then my friend, Chris, would find me naked.
The hot air stirred with the whirring of the machine. I felt nothing but the buzz of my own stress, emanating off my body.
The test didn’t last long. My teeth unclenched bit-by-bit as she turned off the device, and released me from the clutches of the clamps.
I drew in a deep breath, relieved. But as I watched her walk across to exit the room, the next wave of panic hit. She was going to call Chris to enter. “Wait!” I leaned over, grabbed my t-shirt, and frantically shook it at her. “Please! Wait!”
She cracked her first smile of the day, crossed her arms over Chris’ chart, and stopped her motion toward the door.
Scurrying to clothe myself, I took slow, controlled inhales. Once dressed, I scurried out of the room. As I passed Chris, I offered him a frail smile.
This ordeal, an EKG, was the only test that came out abnormal while a patient at that hospital.
Sheepishly, I had to confess to my translator my stress over walking the Green Mile to my death, and being discovered naked. She, in turn, explained to my doctor why and how my heart was not of any true health concern.
My emotional state, however, was a different issue.
A week after returning to the Hungarian dorms of the English camps where I worked, mail started pouring in. Back in Lubbock, Texas, my pastor organized our congregation to write me letters. He mailed them individually over the course of a couple of weeks. I got seven letters the first day. Four the next. And, so on.
Each day, I would open up sentiments from old friends, complete strangers, and precious children. “Deborah, I don’t know you, but I’m praying for you.” “Deborah, take heart, God uses you, even when you’re sick.” My personal favorite, is the crayon-drawn picture of Noah’s Ark, and the precious child-writing. “God does not break his promises.”
Those letters breathed life back into me. Each one gave me a different piece of truth, love, and encouragement. Powerful words I needed to hear gave me the courage to let go of the strain of the hospital, deal with ongoing illness, and move forward.
They were just letters. It only took a few minutes for each one to be written.
The words weren’t earth shattering. The power was in their mere presence.
Someone took a few minutes to put thoughts on paper, and God made them soar straight into my shell-shocked heart.
Who can we write letters to, allowing our meager few minutes of effort to be turned into something significant for someone else?
Are there teachers you can thank for their patience? A pastor who could soar with a few words from you about their service? Retirement community members who feel unseen? Friends who need someone to notice their struggle? What military personnel can you encourage who sacrifice so you can sleep at night and pursue your dreams during the day? Does your spouse need to know you don’t take their efforts for granted? Or maybe your child needs to hear that you think they are amazing.
We aren’t responsible for the outcome of our words. God gets to show off in that area. But can we be more available to write them?
Notes. Paper. Pen. An envelope and a stamp. Powerful tools in our arsenal.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you been impacted similarly? Or, is there someone in your life who could use a good note right about now?
(Postscript: I changed the name of the gentleman named “Chris” in this story. Some things are still too embarrassing to discuss.)