“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.” Romans 11:33-36
The lessons I learned in surgery I learned in the coarse of scrubbing surgical sinks and mopping up blood and guts from operating room floors. I learned them while pushing a stainless steel cart of cleaning supplies with a mind of its own, dressed in an absurd costume. I strived for excellence in this position, hoping to hide my self-consciousness behind a surgical mask and a job well done. Meanwhile, God worked. He stripped me of a lot of false notions and masks typically worn by well-meaning, insecure persons. Naked and vulnerable I lay upon the operating table, and God went to work on my beliefs and attitudes. I learned I was to function out of His acceptance which had nothing in the world to do with my performance. I learned race, socio-economic status, level of education, experience, age, appearance, mean nothing. God revealed the level playing field I really live on. How can one truly love in the absence of this revelation?? I learned prejudice and compassion are incompatible. I learned beyond the limits of “my compassion,” there is genuine compassion flowing from the heart of God, and all men need it.
|God cleansed me of much pain, pride, prejudice while cleaning surgical sinks|
|Similar to what we affectionately called "The Battle Cart"|
I learned the simplest of people are often the kindest and wisest. I came to appreciate that the work of housekeepers, garbage collectors, transporters, and other minimum wage workers keep hospitals in operation. Ed, Gwen, Boomer, James (Hook), Josh, Leandra, and others were some of the best teachers and facilitators of the Kingdom of God advancing in my life. While privileged to peer into the open chest of a man undergoing heart surgery, to witness a beating heart chemically and thermodynamically slowed to allow for a surgeon to repair it, I still consider my experience behind the mop to be of supreme value to me as a nurse. I admit to often asking God, “Who am I, Lord, that I should be invited into such a holy place with You?” That question still reverberates in my heart.
|I've Seen I AM and I begin to know who I am|
I’ll likely never forget the sound of bone being sawn in two or of metal joints hammered into place, nor the smell of cauterized flesh, blood, and cleansers used, nor the awesome sight of a human body laid open to view. In fact, often I pinched myself – the experience for me that unbelievable. Most assuredly the companionship of God known in this place where as a cleaning woman I stood upon a stool and looked inside a living being, where fears the size of mountains were surmounted changed my life forever.
I never told anyone in surgery that as a little girl often I played doctor under a makeshift tent in the neighbor’s yard or living room. We stretched a blue ribbed spread over all available chairs or objects to create this medical facility. Our Red Cross tent seemed to sprawl for miles, and under it I felt a child’s joy in saving others from the brink of death with a plastic stethoscope and thermometer. Did I dream of being a doctor or nurse someday? Not in the way some dream of the profession they desire to pursue, but I did dream of saving, educating, helping others, and felt valuable when pretending these roles. Under that little corduroy tent I had the confidence of a super hero saving lives, the wisdom, compassion, and fortitude of Florence Nightingale sacrificing herself to help others. Cooling the brow of siblings and friends in my make believe clinic filled me with a sense of mission. Much like grading homemade worksheets and tests did when we played school.
|Wish our tents had been so elaborate, but they felt like this!|
|Could have easily been some of my patients under the tent!|
When it came to life outside this pretend medical world – to real life doctor visits – I was as yellow-bellied as a fuzzy spring chicken. The sound of paper being rolled out on an exam table struck terror in me. I knew, following that maneuver, I’d be hoisted up on that table, stripped, held down and examined, and most assuredly flipped like a pancake for a painful injection in the backside. At the hint of alcohol in the air my legs turned purple; likely due to holding my breath or fear-induced tachycardia. I suffered from frequent bouts of tonsillitis as a child and this routine was all too familiar to me. There were a few pleasant associations however. I recall paging through the worn blue pictorial Bible story book found in most pediatricians offices in that day. As a Catholic I knew only that God existed and mysteriously and invisibly loved and cared for me. But this book with its colorful illustrations, with Adam and Eve in a Garden, with a snake coiled around a tree, with an ark full of animals under a rainbow, with bearded men and women and children in strange clothes, and at the end a cross and a Man in shining garments with outstretched arms ascending into the sky – intrigued me. It also momentarily distracted me from what lay ahead. Providence sat with me in that waiting room, introducing Himself, if only into memory at the time. Again, I see another glimpse of Him behind the scenes.
Oh to be sick, heaven and hell rolled into one – the best of times and the worst of times. Lollipops and maybe another reward for bravery on the way home from the doctor’s office, the doting attention of Mom, special foods and drinks (served in bed!), entertainment to distract, time off from school all glorious. However, shots or an upset stomach, or vainly imagining I might have small pox or some other dread disease, seemed constantly to threaten bliss. I recall having a tonsillectomy at around five years of age. It seemed to me it would take weeks to open all the presents. Ice cream and balloons, being held and comforted, kissed – a dream come true. Warped as it sounds, I both dreaded getting sick and loved it at the same time. Perhaps that provides a clue into one of the redemptive facets of illness: it positions us, often on our backs, to receive tender loving care. In many cases, it forms the earliest memories of grace for us. For at a time when most vulnerable, hair disheveled, breath in need of refreshing, we receive unconditional love, comfort, and healing from the hand of a caregiver.
Because in surgery very little interaction with patients occurs, I determined I might prefer to venture into bedside nursing. There were of course a few memorable moments of patient care in surgery. I remember a child brought back to surgery for either tubes to be placed in the ears or a tonsillectomy. To lessen the trauma of entering this frightening theater, the child was permitted to cling to a much loved security blanket until under anesthesia. Inadvertently the little blanket was discarded with surgical drapes into a biohazard box in the operating room and following surgery taken out to the dock to be loaded on a truck for permanent disposal. An hour or so later the nurse in PACU realized the blanket had disappeared and alerted the housekeeping staff. Several of us gowned and gloved and headed down to the large trailer three quarters full of biohazard boxes to look for a needle in a haystack. Eventually the blanket and child were recovered, and in a small yet significant way care shown to the tiny patient.
I learned in surgery that apart from God I can do nothing (John 15:5). Apart from Him I’m a frightened little girl running from her own shadow as fast and as far as her little legs will carry her to point of exhaustion. With Him and through Him I can do all things. In His shadow my own shadow disappears, and I’m safe. The shadow of my shame no longer dogs my steps to taunt and haunt me. Under the shadow of the Almighty I can scale walls, climb mountains, leap buildings in a single bound, soar on wings of eagles. I am free, kind of like the little girl under the shadow of that blue tent, but now with the power and life of God in her to fulfill her co-mission.
Nursing in the Shadow,
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