Saturday, September 17, 2016

God Gets My Attention

God's Teaching Tools?
The thing is, I used to have trouble not paying attention. I'd get busy with all the stuff you have to do to maintain a family, keep the lights on and food on the table and lose track of time so that God gets left out a lot. I still do that sometimes, I am ashamed to admit. The morning worship gets skipped a few days running. Life overwhelms us and I lose focus. Even now after 45 years as a Christian, it's still much too easy to drift.

In the event that I do, God who has a sense of humor as well as a powerful desire to make sure I do pay attention. He has a way of showing at those moments with some sort of attention-getting event. It always happens when I get too comfortable. My first experience with what I think of as "the hammer of God" happened back in the early 90s. It was a hot summer. I was working out of doors with kids doing sports-related things. I come from a long line of sweaty people. Allergens were everywhere. I was doing anti-histamines like a speed freak does meth and definitely not drinking nearly enough water to compensate for the concomitant dehydration.

The first hint that something was going very badly was a sharp stabbing pain to the gut. I went through the usual useless attempts to stop the pain. You guys know what those are, so I won't go through all that. Finally, in serious pain, I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. As an indicator of pain, this was a biggie. My wife was suddenly very worried because I NEVER give up the driver's seat willingly and she doesn't like to drive. She hurriedly bundled me into the car and we were on the road. I don't know what happened to our kids that night. I never saw her call anyone to come stay with them. I never asked, which is also an indicator of my level of pain as we had two boys and a little girl who could hold her own with them back at home and there were things in our house that could be broken which are expensive to replace. I didn't care at that point. The house could have been reduced to a pile of rubble in my absence. I didn't care.

By the time we got to the Cleburne hospital someone had apparently inserted a knife into my lower abdomen and was twisting it slowly now and then , just to remind me that it was still there. We arrive at the chateau de' Cleburne ER. They had this comical sense of humor with regard to parking. Parking for drive-up patients was down hill in the lower parking lot. To get to the ER required you to scale a formidable set of stairs or hobble up an even more formidable circuitous ramp. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act made them tear that ramp out and install and even longer one with flat places every so often where one might lie down to die without fear of rolling all the way back down to the bottom of the ramp.

Hobbling up that long ramp with a dagger in your lower intestines did not look like a whole lot of fun, let me tell you, so I opted for the stairs. Halfway up I decided the ramp might not be such a bad thing, but I was already committed. By now I was doing this Frankenstein-like shuffle step, periodically bending over, then taking a step accompanied by a deep groan, then a bend-over-stomach-clutch, then up again and moan. I looked like a scene from Zombie Attack III. I think I was wearing a ragged t-shirt I had been sleeping in. Moaning I staggered into the ER and stumbled up to the desk. The charge nurse didn't blink, apparently used to zombies walking into her ER.

If you have ever been to the emergency room, you know the drill. A grumpy nurse with a steely eye, an unsympathetic scowl, brandishing a pen asks you to sign in. She then hands you a clipboard and banishes you to the waiting room where you wait patiently with 20 or 30 other suffering humans for up to 8 hours or so. Then, when you reach the point where you don't think you can take it anymore, they send you to a little curtained off area and you wait another hour or two for the doctor to breeze through and pronounce judgment upon your condition. I was asked to rate my level of "discomfort", that was the term the charge nurse used, on a scale of one to ten. I gave it a 35. She was not amused.

Interesting Fact 1: When you do not amuse the charge nurse you move backward in the queue. By this point, I was in no condition to wait patiently for 4 hours for some doctor to come in, scratch his head and then go away to order some tests to be conducted by radiology in a couple of hours or so.

I'm a logical guy. I looked around and evaluated my fellow sufferers there in the waiting room and could see that no one else was suffering like me. A few were dripping blood or nursing an ice pack or throwing up into a little bag that Nurse Ratchet had provided, but I was pretty sure no one else had been stabbed with an invisible knife.

So, putting my great brain feverishly to work, I came up with a plan to get myself moved up in the queue. I had a little help as my invisible tormentor chose that moment to give the knife another sharp twist. I screamed. The reaction was all I could have hoped for. Nurse Ratchet raised her head from whatever romance novel she'd been reading and looked at me. Encouraged, I let loose with another scream; one I'm sure would have got me an "8", even from the Russian judges. 

Interesting Fact 2:  Screaming like a dying wildebeest on the Serengeti upsets the decorum of the ER waiting room. Squealing like a pig being slaughtered (what I call stage 2 screaming) moves you almost immediately to the top of the "next" list. The charge nurse punched a button somewhere and in moments I was loaded on a gurney and wheeled off to a barracks-like room where they put people who are going to die, but are not actually bleeding on the ER floor from a gunshot wound. 

By now I was screaming pretty much nonstop. I was doing a lot of praying of the "Please God make it stop variety." And here's where my religion got tested. Given the location of my pain and the intensity of it and also due to the fact that I was weeping, crying like a girl and remembering some words I used to use before I was a Christian, the nurse had already diagnosed my ailment - accurately as it turned out. She also chastised me for using uncouth words. I was alone on a gurney in an empty room full of gurneys mind you, but she felt a powerful need to correct my language for some reason.

Miserable as I was, and as out of my head with pain as I was, it worked. I grumbled a little at being admonished by this sanctimonious poor excuse for a Florence Nightingale. Here she is being all morally superior, I'd just like to see how she'd handle this much pain. Still, she did get my attention. I girded up my loins (all too literally) and I stopped cursing. I stopped in part because she made me feel guilty, me being an Adventist Christian and all, and in part because I was desperately hoping for some morphine for what my nurse guessed was a kidney stone. Shaking her head she muttered, "Men are such babies," on her way out the door.

Interesting Fact 3:  Even women, whom I believe routinely exaggerate the pain levels they experience in childbirth, say that passing a kidney stone is worse. This is obviously true. Women will willingly get pregnant again. Men will not willingly pass a kidney stone again. My urologist told me to drink lots of water to prevent the formation of stones. Since that day, I swill fluids like an Abrams Main Battle Tank swills diesel fuel. I now plan my travels through life so as to never be more than 3 minutes from a restroom. I WILL use the ladies room in a pinch. Waiting is not an option.

Interesting Fact 4:  Morphine does NOT kill the pain. The best it does is make it so you don't scream so loudly and you can resist the urge to use colorful sailor-words. Using colorful sailor-words is what got me my first dose of morphine. I did not intend for this to happen. The nurse, being a woman of delicate sensibilities and a powerful reluctance to issue narcotics to persons in pain, at first attempted to shame me into silence. It was, however, too late for that. I had just discovered that screaming like a girl made things happen.

I am not disparaging girls here. I describe my screaming that way because of the pitch of the scream, not anything gender-related or stereotypical weakness-wise. I can be as paternalistic as all git-out, but that is not it. What I found out by diligent experimentation that day was that a high-pitched shriek works better for getting attention than a deep-throated manly roar. Manly screaming apparently means to nurses that you are being tough and riding it out and therefore need no attention. When you no longer care about preserving the illusion of manliness and start shrieking like an over-heated teapot, some sort of internal switch gets tripped and someone trundles down the hall to wherever the doctor is taking a nap, wakes him up, and gets an authorization for some pain-killer. After another 30 minutes of this distinctly unmasculine behavior on my part and a call from admin three floors up, the doc gets up. Unable to sleep anyway, with all that unmanly noise emanating from corpse-storage where they'd left me, the doc, bleary eyed from being on the tail end of a 48 hour shift, comes wandering in, has a quick zombie-to-zombie consultation and sends me to radiology.

There they confirm that what I have is a kidney stone. They also apparently confirm the inadequacy of my company insurance and pump me full of morphine and wait for the stone to pass. Before it does, my insurance balks and they send me home with a plastic strainer and instructions to pee through that till the stone comes out.

Stone is something of a misnomer in my case. When it finally made a distinctly uncomfortable appearance in the strainer, even I, who had lived through the stone's passage through my more delicate tubules, blanched a little. The thing was the size of a goat-head. If you live in East Texas, you know what a goat-head is. It's an evil looking spiked seed from a pernicious weed that stabs you in the foot and cripples you for a couple of days at a time. This stone, like a goat-head, had horrible little barbs all over it. They analyzed it at the urologist's, told me to drink lots of water and sent me home.

The second one was bad and sent me to the ER, but I passed that one too. They gave me some potent pain killers which I used sparingly in case I needed them later. I later had a procedure where they tried to blow the stones up with sound waves. The first time they tried it I'd already passed it by the time they got around to doing the procedure and they let me go. The second time they tried it they had more success. For a while I was passing gravel. Then things got more interesting.

Since the first two kidney "boulders" and the lithotrypsy (the one with the sound waves), I've passed six more, including five kidney stones in one year - without another hospital visit. I passed the last five standing on my own two feet at home. I carefully nursed my supply of Hydrocodone and managed to make that one prescription last through the next year. I collected the pesky little rocks I passed that year in a little medicine bottle if you ever want to see them.  I take out the bottle once in a while, shake it so it rattles, and then drink a 20 ounce glass of water.

My attention was captured to say the least. God has a way of reminding you that you are still alive. My struggle with kidney stones, in an odd sort of way, reminded me that what we are doing with our lives is important. Going through that ordeal taught me how wonderful it is to feel good. Sore feet don't matter anymore. A tired back, aching muscles, the odd headache. Those are just reminders that we are still alive and we can still feel pain.

But it's not just physical pain I'm talking about. Life throws us a curve ever once in a while and beans us on the back of the head. We learn that we can survive whatever the devil throws at us (and believe me there is the stench of sulfur about a kidney stone, the death of a child, the loss of a home or job let me tell you). We may reach a point where we can pass a kidney stone or a life trial and remain standing up like a man and do it without screaming, wailing or gnashing of teeth. Sadly, it usually takes us a lot of repetition to reach that point, but reach it we do if we submit to God's training program.

God always finds a way to get our attention when we get sloppy and slack.
He toughens us through trial, makes us strong through adversity, makes us compassionate and willing to bear up under whatever falls upon us. Will God need to get my attention again? At 62, I feel like a tired old war horse sometimes and wonder whether God is done with me yet. I hope so, but probably not.

And it'll probably hurt. At this point I'm all out of pain pills, so I'll just have to stand through it till it's over. I've been through the training and God's a pretty good drill sergeant. I 'spect I can take it.

© by Tom King