I’m learning a lot about healthcare these days — no, not the healthcare insurance everyone’s fighting over — this is actually about the process of caring for someone’s health. I have stepped in numerous times while the one who was giving care is down with a fracture. One is bedridden, the other is in and out of bed into a wheelchair. Some of this is part of the job of being a pastor, some of it we may all be called to do for someone at some time.
Some of the tasks I’ve participated in have been emptying out a urine bag, filling and replacing a food bag, giving pills through a feeding tube, rolling a patient over in bed, helping someone in and out of the shower, giving a bed bath, removing phlegm with a suction tube, changing diapers, preparing meals, and feeding and walking the family dog. Many of these things are tedious and repetitious — things a healthy person does without thinking, and now they become all-consuming. It’s all you can do to keep up with the basic bodily functions. And of course there are accidents to clean up almost every day. Something leaks, something spills, someone forgets to turn something off or on, something needs immediate attention. You are, in many cases, dealing with private aspects of human existence we’re used to conducting by ourselves and for ourselves and cannot do alone because of accident, disability or age. We become vulnerable and our situation recalls the vulnerability we all experience before the Lord who sees all and knows all. This is probably more of what we should be feeling all the time. We are not as in charge as we think we are.
In such an environment you get a different perspective on life. You decide not to take your own health for granted. You suddenly realize how important it is to maintain some level of dignity and personal privacy. It’s true that to a large degree, modesty has to go out the window at this juncture, but there is some level of human decency that needs to be respected and maintained. You learn to laugh as much as possible to try and lighten the heaviness in the room. You realize how life is a fragile thing. You realize we are all living on the edge — on the border between life and death.
I am caring for a man who was in charge, who would come and go as he pleased. He was loved and feared. He had friends and enemies. He was responsible for lots of people. He was eclectic and eccentric. He was a force to the reckoned with. Now he is helpless and can barely lift a finger. In circles where he was “someone” he is now most likely forgotten. I’ve looked at him in his bed and wondered, “Of all the people you were around in your life, why am I around you now? How would anyone have known? A couple years ago, we could have been standing and visiting at a cocktail party and I could have said, ‘In a couple years I’ll be changing your diapers,’ and who would have believed that? I certainly wouldn’t have.”
We need to hold our lives gingerly. We need to be thankful for every breath. We need to realize that one day we will be led around by someone else. We need to not take so much for granted. We need to appreciate those around us and give to them while we can. We need to humble ourselves and let God exalt us in His time.
When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. (John 21:18)