The wound on my foot was just about healed. My doctor in Atlanta, on my last visit, had cleaned it up and pronounced I was good to go.
But the rigors of the move got to me. Moving heavy book boxes, torqued my foot with awkward moves and twists that exacerbated the wound, opening it back up. After a couple of weeks, it was clear I needed to address the now “yelling for attention” wound.
Having not secured a doctor in my new town, I took a leap into the arms of a local doc, proving that good luck does happen. I showed up at his office in the professional building beside the hospital in Brunswick. I was expecting him to take a look at the wound, dress it, prescribe some antibiotic, to be picked up at the local CVS, and the get on the road to healing. Thirty minutes, tops.
Not so fast, as Coach Corso says on College Game Day.
He looked at my foot, looked up at me, and declared in a voice, folksy, but straight to the point, “You’re not going to like me much.”
He saw a wound that he knew was threatening my health. It was infected, and needed immediate attention, namely, an IV antibiotic, requiring hospitalization.
Going to a hospital that I did not know is a fearful prospect on a good day. But add to that the COVID situation, and you have trouble in River City. I had been on the phone that morning with the CEO of a Florida hospital that I have been coaching for the last three years. He told me of an increase in numbers of cases, depleted and exhausted staff, and diminishing supplies. With that in mind, I was in a tail spin, as I assessed my options.
But it got worse.
There was no room in the inn, so to speak, that is, the hospital was full from the influx of new cases of COVID-19. My doc told me that my best bet was to go to the Emergency Room and wait for a room there. His sense of urgency made its point with me.
My wife dropped me off at an emergency room that is under renovation. No visitors are allowed to stick around, so there I was. No leaping gnome with a bottle of wine to be spilled. Just me, a phone that had little charge, and my book by Coach Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings.
I went through the obligatory triage, determining that I was not dying, at least not immediately, meaning I would go to a waiting area. From there, I could observe the other unfortunate few who would come in, some with accidents, one from a fry accident from McDonald’s, but most looking like the Covid patients I most feared. I hunkered down with Phil, taking in all his Zen stuff he had taught to Michael, Scottie, and Wildman Dennis, which was perfect for my immediate need to chill. BE the Ball! Was that Phil or Ty from Caddyshack?
After two hours, I was finally called back to the ER proper. All the ER treatment rooms were full, placing me on a hallway gurney, which would be my home for eight hours. I had a bird’s eye view of the ER, a place where my consulting firm often does a process assessment of waste and inefficiency. Funny how one’s perspective changes when it’s your ass is on the line, or gurney. However, my fascination was at full tilt as I was observing patients who were in need and the doctors and nurses who attended to them.
I did not take formal notes but particularly noted one nurse who seemed to be the spark plug of the whole show. His name was Mike. He wound up setting up my antibiotic IV to get me going with my healing and deftly managed to find an illusive vein. I found out that he grew up in Manilla but made his way to New York as an immigrant.
He went to college to train as a Registered Nurse, and had since worked in a variety of nursing settings. Mike’s time in psychiatric hospitals served him well especially well in this night’s menagerie of patients. One particularly crazy woman across from me was a patient type I knew from my own days of clinical work.She knew how to manipulate the young inexperienced staff, but she was no match for Mike.
I watched her size up the staff, and then zero in on the most vulnerable. This was not her first rodeo. She was my age, but lived a life that was full, or as we used to say, clinically, rode hard and put up wet. Her head had a gash where she had run up against her lover’s wrath. She fluctuated in her willingness to blame him, and yet made excuses for his behavior, even without his presence to defend himself. Watching her, put me in the mind of The Band’s Up on Cripple Creek, a drunkard’s dream if ever did see one, though I don’t think her name was Bessie.
Mike was a master at getting her through her tests, making sure there was no serious damage to her cranium, just one of those head wounds that bleed profusely. She was eventually released, with kinfolk coming to pick her up and return her to her native setting. In her inimitable Southern, style, she made the rounds thanking “the help” for taking care of her, taking on the Scarlet persona as she made her exit, stage left.
I, on the other hand, waited until three in the morning to be assigned a room on Five St. Simons Tower, where I would continue a steady drip of powerful antibiotics to keep my foot from falling off. I got great care from the hospitalist doctors, made a few friends among the staff, had two roommates, both long-term St. Simons residents who helped me to get a lay of the land not included in travel guides.
This is definitely NOT how I planned on learning about my new digs on my island. But it was not bad. Existentially, it took me down to the proverbial river and asked me some powerful questions about life, namely my life, how I had lived it, and most profoundly, what I was going to do with what is left of it. There’s nothing quite like the harsh florescent lights of the ER to get you unblinkingly clear. It was designed for clarity, not comfort. This is life and death.
It occurred to me that this was not unlike retreats I made at Trappist monasteries or times in the desert in Texas at a hermitage. Unplanned and undesired in the land of Covid, it came nonetheless. I am oddly proud of the way I kept my attitude up, and remained receptive and of good spirit. Age seems to be doing that to me. A side benefit, along with Medicare.
The key “lesson learned” for me in this experience was the role of attitude. Throughout my stay, certain individuals showed an attitude of service and an attention to detail. Mike, who I mentioned earlier, provided the juice for the whole Emergency Room team. His enthusiasm was more contagious than any virus. Thelma, head nurse on 5 Tower, had her team organized, encouraging when needed, pushing when required. Eddie, who was the veteran, training new nurses as a mother hen huddles her chicks. Samuel, a faithful servant from Ghana, with a soft voice, whose devotion was embodied in the way he cared for folk. Arianna, a young, fresh nurse whose appetite for learning is voracious and dedication to her profession remarkable. And young Dr. Wiles, a hospitalist whose love of medicine and for his patients was palpable. These people all had a little different twist on how they saw their job, but each one had a mindset for care, and as Delta used to say, it shows.
I’ve thought often of those folks who took care of me in a strange, unfamiliar hospital. I have given thanks for their passion each morning and evening in my daily office of prayer. It’s my discipline of pausing to reset, coming to me from my Anglican tradition, to double down on my mindset. It’s my way of tackling attitude.
And I’m thinking tonight, not of Blue Eyes, but of the many doctors, nurses, technicians, support personnel who have been going at it nonstop. This pandemic that we thought might end quickly with the summer’s heat seems to not only drag on, but is on the rise in many parts of our country. Imagine how that feels to them as they make their way for one more day of intense care for those whose lives that depend on them to get it right.
Give thanks for them in your own particular way. Offer a word of encouragement if you can. I was talking to the CEO of a large health system in Florida this morning and he became transparent to me as to his frustration at politicians who are using this medical issue as a political football, playing games with people’s lives. He, who is a physician himself, trained originally in birthing babies, urges folks to practice social distancing. He is clear that masks do help, both to deter transmission of the virus as well as providing protection for one’s own self. His daunting task is to lead his team of caregivers into these uncharted waters with a clear vision and passion, a heroic quest in my book. I am honored to come alongside and help as I can.
Strange, that in the church, we are now in what I call the “green” season. We have left the purgation of Lent in the dust, gone through the Feast of Easter, such as it was in this year of 2020. And now we are in the long “spell”, as my grandmother would say in her Texan way, of learning. Listening to the teachings of this rabbi, Jesus, talk about how we should live our lives. And like any good teacher, he tries to keep it simple, straight to the point. And when asked by a hungry student, Jesus boiled it all down to the heart of his tradition: Love God and love neighbor,
Those of us who love to spend time arguing about ontology, the virgin birth, scriptural interpretation, sacramental theology, must be reminded on the basics, of simple things. We’ve actually added the complexity of how we worship in the cyber world, what is proper and what is not. How does the Spirit of God work in this age in which we find ourselves, the production world of Zoom. How odd that we quickly impose limits on the power of Spirit, using technology as the definer, the authority. Maybe this green season, of growth, is calling us back to basics. Love God, and love neighbor.
Loving your neighbor can be as simple as keeping a safe distance. Compassion may be as simple as a mask that you wish you didn’t have to wear to block the world from seeing your gorgeous face. But, it may save a life, or the contraction of a disease that has long term implications to one’s health. It may be saving your own life. Don’t allow yourself to get hooked into the games people are playing. Be safe and be smart. And offer up whatever prayer, thought, or righteous vibe you can for our heroic healthcare workers, these ordinary people, who are loving their neighbor in the work they do in extraordinary ways. Blessings.