Monday, October 11, 2010

Sick All Along

Over eight years ago I was suffering from an infection whose seriousness I did not recognize. I thought I had a minor problem (misdiagnosed by myself), and watched it as it did not improve. There's a funny thing about watching something bad. When it turns a little worse, you can't tell. You think, Is that worse, or is it the same? And you keep thinking that maybe it's improving. Well, with my misdiagnosed minor problem, which was slightly uncomfortable at the beginning, I lived for several weeks. It began to be an obviously not small problem, but by then I was intimidated by the possible consequences of seeing a doctor. A doctor might tell me it was worse than what I had decided it was. I read in a book that if it was what I was afraid it was, the pain would be excruciating. So I waited longer. Until the pain did become excruciating. Then I called.

He couldn't see me until the next day. When he did see me, he looked worried. He put me on a heavy antibiotic, a narcotic pain killer, and told me to call him if it wasn't obviously improving in twelve hours. And he told me to treat it with heat. I went home and did just that. Part way through the prescribed treatment, I felt an end to my pain, and rejoiced that it was working. I thought the pain killers were making me crazy, so I stopped taking them. I didn't realize I was delirious. When the twelve hours were up, I called and spoke with a nurse, described my condition, and the strange coloration that was now part of it, and was given a hearty, "Sounds like you're getting better!" I never spoke to the doctor.

The next day, my problem exploded. Literally. On the phone with a doctor (but not mine), I was told to bandage it, and that it was an improvement. I didn't want to sit in an ER on a Saturday night with a newborn, so I was glad to not have it looked at. The bandages kept sticking to the wound, and pulling skin off whenever I changed them. My husband looked at it on Monday morning and insisted I call my doctor and have it looked at, because it wasn't right. Something was wrong. I wanted to go see our friends, and wasn't happy to listen to him.

The doctor, when he had finished ripping the bandages off, grew very pale. His eyes looked huge. He said in an obviously trying-to-keep-calm voice, "I'm going to call my friend Dr. A over at the hospital and have her take a look at you." I just wanted an ointment that would keep my bandages from sticking. I wanted to go to lunch. I was still delirious, and my thoughts weren't connecting coherently.

I said, "I just don't want this to be gangrene."

"Technically, that's what that is," he said. He sent me to the hospital with a hug. His eyes looked afraid.

At the hospital, the triage nurse and the ultrasound tech stood with their mouths hanging open, speechless. "How did this happen to you?" one of them finally asked.

I felt stupid. "I don't know. I thought..." I thought it was okay. I didn't know I needed help.

They called the specialist down, and she was fast. She looked at the problem, watched the ultrasound, and said, "We need to take you upstairs now." In a whirlwind, they were lifting me onto a gurney, explaining a surgical procedure I was adverse to, and shoving release forms in front of me to sign.

"I can walk. I'm fine. I want you to do it under local -- I don't want you to give me anything that'll hurt my baby. He's breastfeeding. He won't take a bottle."

The doctor was firm but kind. "We're not doing this under a local. And you can't walk."

In the prep room for surgery, a nurse lifted the blanket to tuck a warm one around me and saw I was still in street clothes. She yanked off my pants. Another lady from anesthesia talked cheerfully with me. She injected me with something. "What is that for?" I asked.

"To help you relax."

Oh. They wheeled me into the operating room, asked me to sit up, look straight up at the big light, and open my mouth as wide as I could. Under the influence of my 'relaxation', I did just what they asked, wondering all along, I wonder why they want me to do that?

When I woke up, I had a gaping wound. Cavern, really. And oh, the relief. It felt a hundred times better. My husband had to be trained to pack the wound, and he had to continue doing it for over three months. It was an ordeal.

Years later, I was pondering the words of Jesus to the Pharisees. He was eating with some tax collectors and other unsavory characters, and the Pharisees were bothered. "Why does He eat with such people?" they asked.

Jesus heard them and answered, "People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick."

Jesus, our Great Physician, is found among the sick. In the past, I always thought the tax collectors were the 'sick', and the Pharisees in the story were the 'well'. But thinking on His words, I remembered my condition when I had an infection that I didn't think was an infection, and when it deteriorated to gangrene, and the pain grew significantly less, and so I delayed seeing my doctor again. I was sick all along. But I didn't think I was sick. I didn't think my condition was serious enough to need a doctor. So I didn't call.

Those Pharisees were sick. In another place, Jesus said they were blind. They needed the doctor, too. But they wouldn't call.

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