Last Wednesday Morning: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Last Wednesday Morning
The experience is common to many of us, yet particular to each individual.
I was scheduled for spinal surgery. Owing to the upsurge in Covid infections and hospitalizations, dates had to be shifted, but the time had finally arrived. I spent the week before doing all of the preparatory work that I had been instructed to do at the pre-operative consult. Being borderline compulsive-obsessive, I had also pulled all the papers from the file cabinet that my wife might have need of if matters went south. Three days before the surgery, I wrote an article for my friend, Michael, and sent it off. My priest had already been given copies of any needed final arrangements. Apart from the “professionals” I had only let a very few people know what was going to be happening on the morning of Candlemas.
I already knew of the skill of the surgical team having made a point of researching their academic backgrounds, board certifications and all the rest. More to the point, I liked them and trusted that they had my best interest at heart. Nonetheless, knowing that a scalpel was going to open a five inch incision in my throat at the beginning of a three hour operation tended to focus my mind.
Arriving at the hospital, I spent the next two hours being prepared for surgery. I was particularly impressed by the kindness and consideration of the nursing staff. Young, old, black, white, brown, immigrant and native born; many having worked multiple double shifts in recent weeks, they nonetheless approached their task of care with unfailing professionalism and good humor. When I asked about incidents arising from the pandemic, they said very little. They just wished that the anger and recriminations would stop…
After one last conversation with the surgeon and anesthetist, the time had arrived.
Now, as fate would have it, just as I was being wheeled down the corridor to the operating theater, the hospital fire alarm began to sound. Additionally, the alarm started sounding at exactly the same moment that a prayer was being said over the public address system of the hospital, it being a Roman Catholic institution. The chaos of the alarm and prayer resulted in the surgical nurse and myself bursting into laughter at the same moment. Sometimes humor and the absurd can lighten the burden of fear and anxiety.
The surgery went well and I am now home recovering feeling thankful for the care I received.
Unable to do a great deal in recovery, I’ve tried to reflect on what I experienced and witnessed on that morning last week.
We often refer to the Church as being a hospital for sinners but it often appears, at least to me, a strained analogy in many cases. For instance, on that Wednesday morning, I did not have to question the educational backgrounds, certifications and continuing education of the surgeons and anesthetists. Their background and basic competence could be assumed, as could that of the nursing staff. This cannot always be said of the church. Yet, while this is in some ways obvious, it was the manner in which they carried out their exercise of care that left a lasting impression. Despite being tired, overworked and sometimes even attacked by those they were trying to help, they were more concerned about their patients than they were about themselves. Moreover, while anger on their part might be wholly justified over how they were treated, they responded with a self-possessed dignity and humor.
Now, this is not to say that all the members of the medical profession are saints. In forty plus years of hospital visitation I have encountered “all sorts and conditions”. Yet, in the main, I think that we as the church have much that we could learn. Part of the lesson might be that if we desire people to trust us with their spiritual care, then that trust must be earned. It will not be earned by “demanding our rights” or by expressing our anger at perceived injuries or injustices. It might be earned, however, by simply exercising the care that we claim to offer.