Sunday, December 25, 2016
This Christmas morning I'll share three stories about individuals I've seen in hospital on Christmas Day. Often I have gone early, before the rest of the family was up and about. Most of these intimate encounters have been meaningful, and I have almost always ready the Christmas gospel story from Luke, as well as praying. Here is one of the stories I'll tell:
Perhaps the most meaningful Christmas morning hospital visit was to a man named Dave who had been injured in an industrial accident and was paralysed from the waist down. He went from being a physically powerful guy in his 40s, in a high-paying job, to being confined in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was living at home but he had regular hospitalizations for a host of problems related to his paralysis. I visited him at home and when he was in hospital, and while he was always civil there was an underlying anger that could make our conversations awkward.
This was his longest and most difficult time in hospital. The medical team just couldn’t figure out an infection which weakened him, and he developed miserable sores because he couldn’t move and he was such a big man for the nursing staff to turn, even with a special lift.
One day when I was in I told him that a friend had an expression “lower than a snake’s bunion” to describe being really low, and he just nodded his head. He admitted that this time he was preparing to die, because nothing was working, but he just wasn’t ready to go.
On Christmas Day I went to see him. His family was coming but his grandchildren were young so they weren’t there yet. I asked him how he was doing and he responded quietly “snake’s bunion.” I read him the story of the Christ-child born to die and whose resurrection is the promise of new life for us all. Then we held hands and prayed and he squeezed tightly with his big paw.
Dave recovered and went home as well. I stopped in one summer day and he told me that he was back on his scooter and keeping score at his grandson’s ball games. He was an enthusiastic player as a younger man and doing this gave him hope. He had so much to say that day I could hardly get a word in edgewise.
I commented that he seemed to be a different guy, wondering how he might take this observation. He agreed that he was, that somehow the reprieve allowed him to put the indignities and challenges into perspective. Our strangely intimate “man hug” sort of moment on Christmas morning had meant a lot to him. He was glad to be alive and it really was as though he had experienced a rebirth.
Merry Christmas to all of us, good readers!