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The many forms of healing — reading to patients at dawn.

May 02, 2018

Robin Peoples, a patient care assistant working the overnight shift on 4 East, reads to a patient, Beverly Cofer, in the early morning. Photo by Michael Vitez.

“Love is an action word,” said Robin Peoples, a patient care assistant who works the overnight shift on 4 East. “As I get older, I realized it is an action word.“

She puts that love into action every morning, often before dawn, when she walks into the rooms of her patients and reads scripture and stories to them from a book, The Daily Bread.

On a recent morning, at 6 a.m. still dark outside, she walked into the room of Beverly Cofer, 61.

The patient was awake, lying in bed.

“May I read to you?” Peoples asked. She sat in a chair at the bedside as she had done now for a week. The short passage described how the love of Jesus was like a security blanket.

The patient reached out and held Peoples’ hands when she finished.

“Your reading has helped me so much,” Ms. Cofer said. “You show me love every day. I know I can go on and trust in God.”

The patient’s voice was hoarse and weak, but she had more to say.

“When I got here,” Ms. Cofer continued, “I couldn’t breathe. It felt like my heart was going to stop. And I was here by myself because it was like 1 in the morning. As soon as I came up on this floor, you were like an angel to me. A few months earlier my mom was in this room right across from me, and she passed. So you know the fear that I had. And to see someone greet you with so much love, you don’t forget. And every morning you’re here and come in with your smile and to read me and to encourage me. Every day I’m holding on. I can’t wait to see you.”

“Don’t make me cry,” said Peoples.

“You shared hope,” Ms. Cofer continued. “God’s going to heal me.”

“Yes,” said Peoples. “No matter what, he’s got your front and back and side.”

“There are some people that don’t have anybody,” Ms. Cofer said. “You might be the only joy that person sees. Thank you so much.”

“Thank you,” said Peoples, wiping away a tear, and she was gone to the next room.

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Robin Peoples has been reading Christian stories to willing patients like Beverly Cofer for 8 years. Photo by Michael Vitez.

Robin Peoples, 56, has worked at Temple for 10 years, and been reading stories to her patients nearly that long.

She is a patient care assistant, an overnight nursing assistant. Each night, when she meets a new patient, she will introduce herself and ask how the person is doing. If the patient asks how she is in return, she will reply, “I’m blessed by the best.” And if the patient replies, “So am I,” or indicates a similar faith, Peoples will ask if she can read to the patient in the morning.

“The doctors take care of the body,” Peoples says, “and I try to help with the soul.”

Sue Escobar, a charge nurse on 4 East, said, “The patients love her and we love her.”

Peoples shared a story, titled “I Remember You,” at the recent Temple Story Slam. She recounted moments when former patients approached her outside the hospital.

“I was in the Home Depot with my husband about a year ago,” she recalled, “and this big guy comes up behind me and says I know you.”

She eyed him warily.

“You work at Temple,” he told her.

“Out of all those people who work at Temple you remember me?” she said.

“You came into my room for five days straight and read to me,” the man said. “It made me feel a lot better. I just want to thank you.”

Another time she was out for a smoke behind the emergency room — don’t judge her! — and a man approached her. She was sure he was going to ask for a cigarette or money.

“You read to me,” the man said.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“I just want to thank you,” he added.

There are more examples, he says, and they “touch my heart.”

As surprising and gratifying as the recognition is, it makes her think about a Maya Angelou quote, hanging on a plaque outside her nursing manager’s door, which reads in part, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.