Lesson from a sick bed

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Last week, I was sick. I mean really sick. So sick that in four days, I dropped 18 pounds. In fact, I didn’t eat anything during those four days. I did drink water (after becoming seriously dehydrated) and was able to deal with a bit of tea. I forced myself to attend church services on Sunday and, after delivering a brief sermon sitting on a stool and installing some folks into important offices, I left, leaving the second half of the service in more capable and healthy hands. But out of it all, I learned something valuable.

For the last year and a half, I have been in a course called Clinical Pastoral Education. All total, I have spent some 1200 hours in the hospital and have seen, perhaps, hundreds of patients. Unless someone is in ICU or the emergency department, I think that most visitors assume that sick people feel only slightly worse than the visitor does. After all, most patients talk with and put on a good face for visitors. What I learned from my several days of illness is that most sick people may be consumed by how bad they feel. At least, that was my experience.

For four days, I did not care about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or any politician on the planet. I had no interest in sports scores, foul weather, North Korea, ISIS, or what the President was saying or doing. If the phone rang, I ignored it. Knowing my emails were piling up, I didn’t care. I tried to care. I just didn’t have the energy to care.

For most of the four days, the only energy I could muster up was to move from the recliner, to the bed, to the bathroom, and back. Even that was exhausting. I am a clean person. My wife, a medical and educational professional, tells me that I shower too much. For four days, I didn’t shower, brush my teeth, or comb my hair. I assume it pleased her that I finally took her advice.

I hate being sick. It doesn’t happen often and, when it does, I usually trudge along and push through. Not this time. People, including my wife, wanted me to go to urgent care. Frankly, I felt too sick to get up, get dressed, go downstairs, and do all that one has to do to go to urgent care. So I didn’t. Whatever had me, ran its course, beat me up, and finally left me alone.

What I learned is this: I cannot now go into a hospital room and assume that I know how someone is feeling. If they felt great, they wouldn’t be in the hospital. I can’t even assume that I know how someone is feeling when they are sick at home. In my case I felt too sick to make the effort to seek medical help. I probably should have been hospitalized, especially for the dehydration.

I have survived. I am not back to normal yet but I am cautiously eating and am tentatively back at work. I have decided, having stabilized at a loss of 15 pounds, to try to eat healthy and lose a lot more weight in a more reasonable and less traumatic way. I will never enter a hospital room without being aware of how really badly they just might be feeling.

On Tuesday, I watched speeches by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It almost made me nostalgic for those four terrible days when I didn’t care about anything.

[David Epps is the pastor of Christ the King Church (www.ctkcec.org.). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South, (www.midsouthdiocese.org) which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the associate endorser for his denomination’s military chaplains. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]