THOUGHTS FROM THE HOSPITAL

1. The Mundanity of everyday life

Most days we talk about unimportant things as if they were the be all and end all. There’s nothing essentially wrong with that I guess – if not done all the time and if not without self-awareness… but hospital does at least lend a sense of perspective. Hang around the Neuro Intensive Care unit for long enough and you will become accustomed to conversations of great significance – staged in the most ordinary tones. Instead of hearing people leave or enter a room complaining that they wore the wrong shoes… or that Franz Ferdinand’s latest work just doesn’t match their early promise, you’ll hear them commenting that “she can’t use her arm or leg” or that “he remembers nothing from the past four days”. Everything that goes on in that room is really very life-changingly important to those in and around the beds.

I’m not sure I have a readymade point here linking this to the Christian life. Other than to say that we shouldn’t get too accustomed to trivialities. Particularly as most of those forced to face their own mortality do so without any assurance of salvation – something we must attempt to address in those we love before they take their turn. 

2. Death is real and not all that distant

Sorry to be morbid. But why should I apologise? It’s because death is seen as rude and inappropriate for polite conversation. It’s not the done thing to remind people. However, it’s one of the few certainties that await us. We all know this in an abstract way, but enough time at the business end of a hospital will bring the point home. I was listening yesterday to a couple of nurses. One enquired as to why an expected patient hadn’t arrived to claim her bed. The other replied that it was an ‘unsuccessful cardio’ and that she should therefore be crossed off the list. This was the end of someone’s life! The nurses weren’t being crass or unfeeling. It’s just that they see it all the time… Be ready! We are not immune! Have your death insurance in place… Jesus has picked up the bill! 

3. We really are made in God’s image. Or at least doctors are…

It’s not always easy to see man as God’s own image. However, in doctors we seem to get closest. He (or she, but he in our case this week) spares life and declares death. Every patient and every underling awaits the moment of his visit, his appraisal and his judgement. From him we crave attention; from him we expect an absolute assessment – based on a brief scan of surely incomprehensible notes… We scrutinise his body language when examining those we love; we hang on his every word; and we experience bitter disappointment when he moves on to the next hopeful patient – nothing having changed for us from before.

Only God knows. Only God can give or take life. He has imparted much skill and responsibility upon these medical magicians, but perhaps it’s because I know so many of them that I try to remind myself they too are deeply fallible! They, like the rest of us, are making up half of their job as they go along – hoping the rest of us won’t notice. I won’t buy into this idolatry, but it’s tempting! (Thank you God for doctors…) 

4. The Stuff of Beauty

It’s faintly obscene that the glamour mags – whether those aimed at women or the fuller-bosomed lads’ versions – are sold on site in a hospital. Digitally altered images of perfect skin and smiles? In this place? It’s so incongruous. After all, it is mightily refreshing that this is where society’s beauty flies out the window and yet a far greater beauty takes its place. Patients shuffle like the living dead – they are bandaged, swollen, unkempt and bemused. Doctors and nurses play along by shrouding themselves in shapeless sheets, their make-up selflessly sacrificed. Relatives yawn and sag – cheeks puffed and reddened by unashamed weeping. Respecting the tone, all on-site shops seem obliged to hire only the least employable or presentable staff London has to offer. Cosmopolitan it ain’t, but it’s more and better. This is where people love one another – full-time, and at cost to themselves. You’ll never see more heartfelt embraces nor greater appreciation between families and friends. You’ll never again see people give up day after boring day just to have someone know they are far from alone. So many bedsides tell a story of relationships touched by common grace. (And some bedsides are never visited at all – another challenge to consider…)

There should surely be more of the hospital and less of the Cosmo in our everyday dealings – interactions characterised not by the superficial and worldly, but more by the messy, tiring love of Christ – inconvenient beyond all reasonableness but beautiful beyond all doubt.

PS How did the op go? The op went well – the after-effects tough, ongoing but, God willing, temporary I’m sure…

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