Excellence Reporter: Dr. O’Driscoll, what is the meaning of life?
Jeff O’Driscoll: In life, and particularly as an emergency physician, I’ve learned that every scrap of human experience has value. Every shred of every encounter with every soul teaches me something. Each interaction yields an opportunity to connect with others, to hinder their progress or to move them along the path home. Each interaction writes on my soul and changes me. I’m not very good at predicting who will help or how, like the patient I met late one evening as I entered an exam room in the emergency department.
He was cold, wet, and homeless. I glanced at his feet. He had on shoes, if you could call them that. Through the holes in his shoes, I could see the holes in his socks. His feet were blistered and swollen. It wasn’t yet cold enough to freeze his feet, but he had minor frostbite. The relentlessly wet socks and the need to walk several miles a day had taken their toll. He was forced to walk from the shelter to the park, from the park to the shopping district, and from the shopping district back to the shelter. That was his daily trek. In my mind, I could see the path he’d worn in the snow.
My patient and I were the only two people in the room. He didn’t have much to say. We both knew what needed to be done. I grabbed a washbasin and filled it with tepid water. I was facing away from him, but I could see his distorted reflection in the chromed paper towel dispenser. He watched pensively. I moved toward the end of the gurney, and he repositioned himself and reached for his shoelaces. He grimaced in pain as he leaned forward. I could tell it was an effort for him. I took over the task as he leaned back onto the pillow with a look of appreciation.
I removed his tattered shoes and the remaining threads of his socks. I found no evidence of infection or serious thermal injury, just some blisters, some swelling and some maceration. I lowered his feet into the water and squirted some soap on a washcloth. I looked up occasionally as I gently washed layers of the city from his feet. His hair was long, his beard unkempt, his clothing disheveled.
I could have delegated the task of washing this man’s feet to another, but I was richly blessed by my small act of service. As I washed his feet, the heavens opened, the veil was drawn back. In this man who had neither possessions nor the esteem of the world, I saw the glorious and indescribable nobility of every soul who suffers. I saw that portion of him that was divine. I saw God.
I entered that room thinking I was going to serve someone else. Then I realized he was there to minister to me. He was the antithesis of everything the world defines as success, yet I saw his divine nature. He was there to teach me who I am, who everyone is. We are always next to God whether we are sitting in a church or in the gutter. That’s who we are.
I had a tiny taste of empathy that night as I walked through the snowy hospital parking lot in my socks and drove home with cold wet feet. The homeless man who had given me so much left in my shoes. I had given so little. I had a heater in my car and a dozen pairs of shoes at home. I had a home. That evening I’d washed a man’s feet. That night I wept.
For me, the purpose of life is to learn to see all souls as I saw that man that night, to see the divine in everyone, including myself.
~Jeff O’Driscoll, MD, received his training at the University of Utah School of Medicine and completed his residency in Salt Lake City, UT. He is board certified in internal medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, with twenty-five years of experience as an emergency physician in a level-one trauma center.
In his professional experience, Dr. O’Driscoll frequently communicated with spirits who hovered between this life and the next. He saw people leave their bodies at the time of death and he experienced eternity with them.
In his fascinating memoir, Not Yet, Dr. O’Driscoll describes his otherworldly communications that began in childhood, shortly after the farm accident that took the life of his older brother. His experiences are both interesting and instructive. For those who wish to develop their spiritual gifts, this book is a must read.
In addition to Not Yet, Dr. O’Driscoll recently published six beautiful children’s books and his first novel. He also paints and sculpts. He married Sheila more than thirty years ago. They have five children and three grandchildren.
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