Angels By My Side

by Joanie Butman

Last Saturday night I enjoyed a farewell meal with one of my guardian angels, Noonie, who slept by my side in the hospital every night. She was a Godsend – literally. Her calming presence and caring ministrations got me through many a rough night – with a little help from our adorable night nurse, Joe, who we both developed a little crush on. The best part of having Noonie there was that we managed to have a lot of laughs, despite the circumstances, and kept the staff entertained with our antics.

My niece brought me a wand and halo for my birthday. She knows how I love my accouterments and knew they would be put to good use. One night Noonie and I donned the halo and wand and went around the ward granting wishes. Two of the wishes – to be released the next day – were granted, much to our surprise. We took full credit of course.

Our impromptu cookie party was definitely a staff favorite given the feedback. It hardly seemed adequate for the excellent care they provided during my stay. Anyone can learn the skills to be a healthcare worker, but patience, gentleness, kindness and compassion can’t be taught. Those qualities come from within. I was moved to tears when they arrived with a birthday cake – definitely above and beyond the call of duty.

It takes a special person to sacrifice two weeks of their life and completely dedicate it to helping you get better. I’ve heard it said that ‘the best times in life are made a thousand times better when shared with a dear friend.’ True enough I suppose, but shared pain is an even more powerful bond. The only way I can describe the experience would be to imagine Jesus Himself as your roommate tending to your every need (which I believe He was). It was a bittersweet goodbye as Noonie returned to Texas, but the experiences we shared will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’m sure there are sights she saw that will haunt her for years to come as well. Let’s just say, I look better fully clothed.

As angelic as Noonie is, there were many angels surrounding me during this episode: doctors, nurses, a fellow patient who arrived with a birthday gift after knowing me only a day or two, the volunteers in the craft room, the woman who cleaned my room, battalions of prayer warriors on their knees on my behalf, countless friends and acquaintances who sent encouraging notes, my extended family, my children and, most of all, my husband, who calmly hovers in the background making sure all my needs and those of our family are met.

No doubt that Noonie deserves applause for her two-week tour of duty. Bob, on the other hand, has been on duty 24/7 for 25 years!!! That’s some staying power. He has nursed me through more than just cancer, without fanfare, and often without the accolades he deserves.  He is a quiet pillar of strength and stability, complimenting my loud and slightly off-center personality. There are no words or awards to express my gratitude for a life-time of TLC.

A friend recently asked me what my ‘take away’ was from the past couple of weeks. There are many, but even for a writer, some things get diminished in the retelling and just need to be treasured in your heart. However, after much reflection, I think the most important lesson was the power and purpose of fellowship. I was overwhelmed by how God revealed Himself at every turn and in every person I met. God truly uses us as his angels at times to care and support each other. As in any divine transaction, it’s reciprocal in nature because both sides are blessed in the process.


I will share two examples. The first is the recovery room nurse who cared for me through that first night. I was in recovery from about 6 PM to 4 AM. We chatted quite a bit during those hours while she struggled to get my blood pressure up and stabilize me enough to be released to a room. I discovered she was a student of my pastor while in seminary, which led to a discussion of why she didn’t follow that path. Her mother got cancer and she took care of her for 13 years, but her dream to be a missionary lingers. Given the amount of drugs I was on and my history with saying bizarre things coming out of anesthesia, I can’t imagine I had anything erudite to say, but as they wheeled me out she made a point to come hold my hand and tell me that I inspired her to revisit her dream of missionary work. Considering my condition, it had nothing to do with me at all and I think she recognized that.

The second example is a woman named Barbara I met on my first lap around the ward. As she passed my room, I called out “Do you mind if I tag along?” Our pace was agonizingly slow, so by the time we finished the loop, we had become fast friends. She’s a spunky, native Brooklyn girl so I wasn’t surprised. By the time she finished telling her story, I knew I had found the person to whom God wanted me to deliver my extra prayer shawl. When I presented it to her, she burst into tears and said, “Now I know why I met you. God sent you to me. That’s why you’re here now.” I agreed wholeheartedly. When I received the extra prayer shawl in the mail from my mother’s church, I knew I was meant to bring it to the hospital and that God would reveal His intended recipient. 

We’ve all been on both sides of these kind of interactions. For reasons I can’t explain, I’ve always been more comfortable on the giving side and found it awkward accepting help. What I learned this time is the unique blessings to be found by choosing to allow others to care for you and choosing to recognize God’s presence in their ministrations. It’s a beautiful thing.

A video that says it all: