We do together what we can’t do alone

Sometimes a corporal work of mercy requires teamwork

By George Valadie

If you’re a routine reader of this column, then you may recall my wife had some foot surgery not long ago.

If you’re not, let me begin by saying that my wife had some foot surgery not long ago.

In and out the same day, our time in the hospital was relatively brief. She was a little antsy beforehand, as you can imagine, but the happy juice took care of that. Throw in the nerve block they administered and the woman didn’t feel a thing.

All things considered, it was as good a hospital stay as one could hope for … me, I’m talking about.

And other than my rolling over her and her bandaged-up foot smack into a cabinet door

I’d left hanging open, her recovery has been going pretty well.

But it was during my waiting-room time that I couldn’t help but recall several years ago when my best friend had suffered a scary attack of something that drove him to the hospital.

Well, actually, his sister had to drive him because his legs could no longer get him there. Or anywhere. He had collapsed on the floor next to his bed and was temporarily “out of it.”

When his senses returned, his legs did not.

I can’t say for sure — and he couldn’t remember — but once back among the living, I’m guessing a little panic likely took hold. Because, after all, when you’re in your 60s and faced with a few suddenly disabled body parts, we’re only a hop, skip, and a jump away from imagining none of our body parts working at all.

Especially when we can’t actually hop, skip, or jump.

He couldn’t reach his phone, which was on the other side of the bed, and he didn’t have the strength to climb up on it. Remarkably, he managed to yank the mattress off the box springs, effectively lowering the bed’s height to a level he could then reach relying on his upper body alone.

I’d still be lying there.

By the time I could visit, he had been in the hospital a night and most of the next day. He looked pretty rough. But then who would ever say that to a patient you are visiting?

Except your best friend.

“You look like hell! Did they find out what it is?” I asked.

“No, they don’t have a clue yet, but they’re pumping these fluids in me.”

They arrived with dinner, which, with all due respect, didn’t look all that appealing. “Do you want me to go get something somewhere — a taco, burger, milkshake?”

“Nah, I don’t much feel like it,” which wasn’t that unexpected if he felt like he looked.

We repeated the same scenario the next day except for his better-sounding phone call in which he asked me to bring the burger, the fries, and the Coke.

“Well, that’s better. You’re beginning to look like your old self. Have they found out what caused it yet?”

“No, but the doctor told me if I hadn’t gotten here as soon as I had …”

No need to finish the thought, we knew each other way too well. And he had looked exactly that bad.

After a three-night stay, they rolled him to the exit, where he left with no real answers but a pair of legs that worked again. He was good with that. Apparently, their fluids and my burger had done the trick.

Prior to those few days, other than my daughters giving birth, it had been years since I had visited anyone in any hospital.

It’s not that I haven’t known people who were there, it’s just that I don’t particularly care to visit them. They (these sick people and places) make me horribly uncomfortable.

And yes, I get it, that’s entirely about me. Selfish? Don’t mean to be. Thoughtless? Probably so.

On the flip side though, when I am ailing I don’t want anyone to come see me either. I love it when I’m left to my peace. And it’s a lot easier to “look like hell” all by myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ignore them; they’re friends of mine. I call, e-mail, text, sometimes send a card or flowers.

I always go with something like: “Don’t want to bother you, know you need your rest. I’m thinking about you.”

Sounds better than it probably is.

And you can absolutely forget me ever volunteering to visit the random sick I don’t even know. I should; I don’t; I just can’t.

No doubt, this entire column appears to be going down an odd path, since this is a holy publication of sorts and I should be encouraging, if not exhorting, readers to go forth and “visit the sick.” It is, after all, one of the

corporal works of mercy and a pretty darn good suggestion for this season of Lent.

I know I should urge you. But I can also appreciate that hypocrisy isn’t very inspiring.

So, in an effort to negotiate with God about my chances for heaven, I’ve come up with an idea.

I’m looking for someone with your failings to partner up with me and my failings. I’m thinking you could pick up my slack in this area and I’ll pick up your slack in another.

How about if you visit the ailing a little more while I provide a little more food for the hungry? I’ll gladly part with my money if you’ll part with your time.

There are so many people who need the both of us. Millions of hungry are without food. And a whole lot of sick people lie lonely without a friend. Sadly, some are lonely and do have friends.

So, yes, I am encouraging all of us. But I can’t do it better than He did.

“Then he shall say to them on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire. … For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink … sick and in prison, and you did not visit me … ”

I get it, I should do better. And I’ll try. But if I can’t find a partner, this “everlasting fire” thing sounds bad.

Dear God — These days, we often think of “mercy” as given only to the guilty. Have mercy on our weakness. Amen.

 

George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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