Vulnerable

Yesterday I visited the Medical Intensive Care Unit at the local hospital to see a woman.  We’ve only spoken on one previous occasion, really.  But she was dying now, and I felt it appropriate to go and see her.  To pray with her and encourage her to trust Jesus in what were likely her final hours.

I had stopped by Wednesday briefly, and nobody else was there.  She was barely able to hold her eyes open and I spoke briefly and left.  With a breathing tube down her throat, I knew she couldn’t exactly hold a conversation.

But when I went back yesterday there were two women already in the room, with masks and gloves and gowns on.  They said it was a fine time to visit so I started to step into the room before the one woman jumped in front of me, ordering me into a mask and gown and gloves from a small table set up outside the sliding glass door of the room.  I dutifully suited up before going in.

Were those gowns and gloves and mask there the other day when I visited?  I looked for the sign ordering visitors to suit up but couldn’t find one easily.  In the past they are large, colorful, easily spotted.

I thought of history, of course.  I thought of the people that we are told cared for the dying during the outbreak of plague hundreds of years ago in England and Europe.  How brave those people always sounded to me.  How selfless and courageous to risk their own lives.  But what if they were just stupid?  What if they didn’t really know what they were doing, the risks they were running?

That’s cynical, of course, and it’s pretty clear that a good number of those selfless people knew exactly the risk they were running but felt compelled to care for the dying all the same.  My job calls me to be with those near death, sometimes those who are dying from things that are contagious.  I don’t think about it much anymore.  It’s part of who I am and what I do.  It’s not easy, but it’s important.  I don’t think often of the risks I run in doing so.  Not until a room I wandered in and out of casually a few days earlier is shown to be a room where care and caution are necessary.

I can understand easily how someone could become paranoid about this.  I can dimly imagine walking around with a mask on.  For someone who hates hospitals I get to spend more than my fair share of time in them.  At the end of the day I have to trust that things will be OK.  There is a God in heaven who knows what is going on even when I don’t.  I don’t necessarily think this entitles me to special protection, but I’d like to think that maybe it does.  At least every once in a while.

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