Friday, June 18, 2004

Trish #15

Today, the doctors decided once again not to remove Trish's ventilator.

This time they were concerned about her inability to do without the external drainage tube that they installed to keep her intercranial pressure down. Her brain's natural drainage system, the ventricles, were clogged from the hemorrhage she suffered on June 1. So tonight they have closed the drainage tube to give her body one more chance to reabsorb the spinal fluid naturally. If this doesn't work, they will operate on her first thing tomorrow morning to install a shunt, that is to say an internal drainage system. After they have installed the shunt, they will attempt once more to remove her ventilator. If she has any difficulty breathing or swallowing, they will also do tracheotomy.

Obviously, tomorrow is a big day for her.

My prayer is that she will need neither the shunt nor the tracheotomy. However, we have placed all of this in God's hands.

Something else happened today.

A few days ago, one of the hospital chaplains asked if Trish and I would welcome a visit from Bishop Thomas O' Brien. (For those of you who do not live in Phoenix, O' Brien is the former bishop of Central and Northern Arizona. He was in the news here for several months because of his mismanagement of priests charged many years ago with inappropriate sexual conduct. He returned to the news because of his involvement in a hit and run accident. He was convicted on that charge and sentenced to several thousand hours of community service. Of course, he also lost his position as bishop.) I told the chaplain we would be glad for him to visit us.

Bishop O' Brien called me later that day and thanked me for allowing him to visit Trish. He said that he would serve our family in any way he could.

So this evening he came into Trish's room.

It helps to have a context for this story. O' Brien was consecrated to his office by Pope John Paul II. He has hosted both Mother Teresa and the Pope in their respective visits to Phoenix. So he is a man who has known great power and responsibility. But this evening he walked meekly into Trish's room and asked me permission to pray for her. Trish had been asleep but she suddenly opened her eyes. When she saw bishop O' Brien, she smiled. So I asked her, "do you remember Bishop O' Brien?" She shook her head "yes." Then she smiled as best she could with that breathing tube in her mouth.

O' Brien smiled back. He knew he was welcome there.

That's the way Trish is. She has always been concerned about people who are being excluded. I remember when the bishop was in the news every night, she commented that though he had done wrong and would, like anyone else, have to face the music, he was nonetheless God's child. She kept saying to me, "we have to find a way to reach out to him." Well, today she did reach out to him and I wondered whether he was there to minister to her or whether she was there to minister to him? Then I thought, "does it matter? Does ministry ever really flow in just one direction?"

Also today, a respiratory doctor came in Trish's room to check on the various machines to which she is hooked up. He said to me, "this is my favorite room to come to. I like the music. I like coming in here to check on things."

Trish's corner of the ICU has become a center for healing; healing for her, naturally, but also for all those trying to help her.

After all of this, my children gave me a Father's Day present this evening. It was a two volume, leather bound edition of the Far Side. I reverently opened volume I and began to laugh from the very first page. Now I still had fresh tears on my cheeks from leaving Trish. I was worrying about her facing those procedures in the morning after all she has been through. I had cried because I miss her. I had cried because I was enjoying my family while this huge hole is in the middle of us where she is supposed to be.

But I still laughed. I laughed because if we wait until all is well with us we will never laugh at all. I laugh because if we wait until the bills are paid, or until no one we love is sick, or until there is no war, or until poverty is abolished or until the evil one ceases to rage, or until we have all the money we need, we will never laugh. We must laugh. We must laugh in the very presence of all the ugliness and sadness around us. We must laugh not because we do not care about all these things but because we know that in spite of them, "all will be well, all manner of things shall be perfectly well" (as Julian of Norwich once put it).

I laughed at the antics of the crazy centipedes and the bewildered dogs imagined and drawn by the twisted genius of Gary Larson. I laughed because Larson, made as he is in God's image and likeness, reflects in his work the dazzling kind of alchemy that God works upon situations like ours. God takes a situation full of suffering and fear and makes it into a conduit of grace and a womb of charity. God gives laughter in the midst of tragedy and humor in the center of despair. How can I not laugh?

As a Pentecostal, I was taken aback a few years ago when I read Thomas Aquinas's take on healing. He asserts that though God often heals through the laying on of hands and through other mysterious displays of his supernatural grace, God prefers to heal gradually, through the agency of human medicine. Aquinas taught that when a sick person is helpless he or she must submit to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and the like. A community quickly forms in order to bring healing to the sick person. The sick person who submits to this community learns humility. Doctors get to apply their learning and discover compassion. Pharmacists explore God's creation for the proper plants, roots and herbs needed for healing. The sick person's family mobilize to serve their loved one and thus learn more about love. While all of this is happening, God's people pray. The healing community that forms around helping a person get well thus creates a dwelling place for God and goodness. Aquinas said that while we focus upon getting the sick person's body well, God focuses upon bringing healing to many souls and spirits. So when we work together to care for one who is ill, the compassion, prayer and service that gets directed toward that person creates an atmosphere in which God can do a deep work upon many people. I think Aquinas was right. I think I have been watching what Aquinas described unfold before my eyes.

So as I prepare to for bed tonight, I find myself agreeing with Julian of Norwich. Despite all that is difficult and scary, "all will be well; all manner of things shall be perfectly well."

No comments: