Wiping the blood away

Sep 16, 2014 by

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I was taking Kristi to the grocery store as I do from time to time.

Kristi is blind and in a wheelchair and she suffers from some cognitive disabilities. Kristi is a friend from church who I visit at her assisted living facility, often taking her shopping when she needs something.

Usually, shopping with Kristi is fun and relaxing.

But this time things got stressful.

I’d just helped Kristi get out of the car and seated in her wheelchair. Kristi grabbed the car door and tried to shut it but pinched her finger in the door. She showed her finger to me and I saw her finger was bleeding pretty good.

I didn’t have any tissues on me or in the car, so I pushed Kristi inside the grocery store to the bathroom. There I wet some paper towels to clean up the wound and stop the bleeding. By the time I got back to Kristi the blood was pretty significant, running in a rivulet down her hand and onto her pants.

I started to clean up the cut. I was relieved to find that it wasn’t all that bad. A small cut, but it was a bleeder. I cleaned up the blood that had run and then took a dry paper towel and wrapped it around Kristi’s finger. I took Kristi’s other hand and had her wrap it around the paper towel, putting pressure on the cut to stop the bleeding. Given that the cut was small I figured Kristi could hold the paper towel on her finger while we quickly picked up the things she needed and then get the cut properly bandaged by the nurses back at her home.

But for some reason Kristi wouldn’t keep pressure on her finger. I couldn’t tell if this was because she was blind and couldn’t see the blood or if it was a cognitive disability thing. Regardless, Kristi kept letting go of the cut, causing it to bleed again. I was pushing her through the store and she was getting blood all over her hands and clothes. I wasn’t overly worried about the blood, as it wasn’t much, but it was noticeable. But I worried how the bleeding finger would affect the other shoppers in the store. People don’t like the sight of blood.

But I couldn’t get Kristi to keep the wound covered and pressured. And so the blood flowed.

Finally we got checked out and I took Kristi back to the bathroom to clean her up again. Smeared blood was on both hands. I got some more wet paper towels and began to gently wipe each hand clean, one at a time.

As I was doing this I was struck by how intimate it all was. Wiping the blood of another human being. Holding and cleaning her hands.

I’m sure it’s a feeling nurses know very, very well. But I had not done anything like this since I had done it for my children when they had been hurt and bleeding.

I felt honored to be that close, close enough as a friend to be a nurse. Close enough to hold her hands and wipe them clean.

And I wished, in that moment, that church could be more like this.

A place where we could love each other enough.

Enough to hold hands.

Enough to wipe the blood away when we are hurt.

Richard Beck is professor and department chair of psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and MortalityRichard’s area of interest — be it research, writing or blogging — is on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. Richard’s published research covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. He blogs at Experimental Theology, where this post originally appeared.

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