Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Those Strange Divine Curves

I was all set to write a new post today. All set to post something related to what I am reading (Hearing God, Skeptical Believer, Day of Battle are some of my current reads). Or post an experience (like hearing from both a Palestinian believer and an unbelieving Jewish lawyer Sunday nite). But a deep and, sometimes, unnerving pain in the upper region of my abdomen changed all of this, so I am posting from the hospital tonight.

As a pastor, I am fairly acquainted with these places. Over thirty years, I have come at all times of the day and night to visit people in all kinds of conditions. Many I have forgotten, but some stand out, like the man who had prostate surgery and wanted me to see it. I can’t quite explain this, but I have found certain people like to show off their “wounds of battle”. Others are far more private. I could not enter a room of a friend dying of cancer because he was required to take off his toupee. Sadly, he was more concerned with appearance than with comfort.

So it is a bit odd being on the other side. It is giving me a whole new appreciation of what people go through. I was in the emergency room for most of today, and I discovered that time slows down to an ice flow pace in ER (for patients). When doctors or nurses say they will be back in, say, 5 minutes, always multiply the number by four. They mean well, but ER is the ultimate setting of unpredictability. You are the center of attention for a fleeting moment. Suddenly a man comes in with appendicitis or a teen ager with a bullet wound, or a woman with a crab leg stuck in her throat (or something more traumatic). If you have to go, you cross your legs and wait for fear they will come by and you are gone—and then it could be hours, or days. These professionals are the ultimate multi-taskers (which is scary, given that books about the brain tell us multi tasking immediately reduces the brain from Einstein to Alfred E Neuman levels).

I’ve also discovered that medical people have to cover their backs. Bad attorneys and bad doctors have something to do with this. So they have been constantly checking in to see that I have been treated well. My vital signs are checked on the hour. No getting out of bed without getting the nurses’ permission. Rails have to be up in case I roll out of bed. I am asked about everything. Have I touched latex gloves? Do I have an advanced directive? (this is comforting). Do I have difficulty swallowing? Would you like to take something for pneumonia? Do my stools tend to float or sink (I am not kidding). They get very personal.

The one good thing about an emergency room or hospital stay is that you have a great excuse to get out of practically everything. The calendar is cleared. No one is disappointed with you that an assistant had to cancel an appointment. I will miss an elder meeting tonight, and no one will question my loyalty. “Hospital” explains everything. It’s the ultimate hall pass. No putting out the trash tonight. Heather’s To Do List is put on hold. “In the hospital” silences all expectations.

So I am going to milk this divine interruption for everything I can get. I am choosing (for today anyway) to use the rest of it as a sort of retreat. Being on the seventh floor, I have a view of Forest Heights. I requested an ocean view, but they were taken. I am looking forward to the menu. I am thinking Salmon might be a good choice, along with rice pilaf, seared asparagus tips, and peach cobbler, washed down with some Cranberry juice on the rocks. I am not sure of the offerings, but I am sure there has been an upgrade from the beef bullion broth and orange gelatin diet I was served in a brief stay when I was a kid.

Sadly, the nurse just came in and wrote NPO (nil per os–Latin for “Nothing by Mouth”) on the white board. So much for the retreat idea. I will just look at the IV drip and the mouth sponge and pretend they are delicious. And prepare for a long night of constant interruptions. Yes Lord, I promise to be a more empathetic pastor in the future.


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