My church, Isaiah’s Table, has a board where we put Post-Its noting the moments when we have seen God. Here are some of my Post-Its:
- On the Observation Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital, I asked for and got a Holy Bible.
- In Observation, I was aided by a nurse I’d known a long time ago. Her path has taken her to a non-Big Church, and to study Reiki. In short, she is moving forward in her career guided by something other than the American Medical Industry. She wants to help people and knows that “medications”—pills, drugs—aren’t the only way to do it. Blessings on her.
- Rev. Jerry and Mrs. Carola Shave, from Isaiah’s Table, found me in Observation when I’d been in the hospital less than 24 hours. With the nurse, we linked hands and prayed, and my soul took a deep breath and relaxed. Turn it over to God.
Inpatient psychiatry, Unit 3-6, is not hell. Hell is, by definition, a place where you are beyond the reach of God. God can still reach you on 3-6 but it’s a stretch. On my first morning—3-6’s “night”—I collapsed on the bathroom floor in a hypoglycemic crisis. When it came time to get off the floor, I met Matt. Matt is the size of a refrigeration but slightly taller. He stood in front of me, ignoring all the little girl psych nurses who couldn’t figure out how to get a patient off the floor. We grasped arms, wrist to elbow; he pulled, I pushed, and I was easily on my feet in a second.
Katy has been the primary night nurse on 3-6 for a couple of decades. She is a terrible person, intent only on exercising her authority, and lacking all empathy for the patients. She treats us like turds to be flushed. I press the call bell in the middle of the night and she comes in, slamming on two banks of overhead lighting.
The point and purpose of nights is to have the patient sleep. Sleep is healing. Every doctor who specializes in treating sleep disorders will tell you that the first and worst thing you can do is turn on the lights. Keep it dark. Once light hits the optic nerve, you have substantially reduced the possibility of going back to sleep. All Katy had to do was enter the room, leave the door open, approach the bedside and quietly ask the patient what she needs. Then, if necessary, turn on the light.
I needed to go to the bathroom, urgently. Katy had to manually crank up the bed. As she did so, she assaulted me with a battery of comments. It’s the middle of the night. I’m sleeping. I live alone and am not conditioned to carry on conversations immediately upon waking. In less time than it takes to crank the bed, Katy is saying mean things to me about my bad attitude. And this is therapeutic how?
At other times, on other nights, Matt comes in. He talks to me quietly, leaning over the bed to get close to me in the darkness of the unlit room. He is a simple, gentle fellow. One morning (night) he says softly, “Well, I just think how I would want my mother, wife or sister to be treated.” Matt wants to treat me the way he would want extensions of himself to be treated. “That’s the Golden Rule,” I say. “It’s the way I was brought up,” he replies.
One morning (I usually wake around 6:00 a.m., which is the night shift in a hospital) I am in such despair that I wake up crying. Matt comes in, leans over my bed, and talks quietly and at length about hope and help, kindness and compassion. I don’t remember the words but I recognized the music. And, once again, in my darkest despair God sent his message of love and comfort, using Matt as his voice.
Another morning, God spoke to me using the voice of Gary Scott, a wise 3-6 frontline worker. Gary was an ordained Methodist minister until he found that Big Church wasn’t at all what he was called to do. He was called to help people, not monitor the budget, so Gary moved on and ended up on 3-6. He chooses to work there, he says, because when a person’s psyche has been so deeply crushed that they need acute care then they are most open to making real changes. He wants to be there to foster the change.
Gary’s voice is a sprightly, kind of “hip” voice. It was, again, a time of deep suffering for me and I was in prayer. Usually, when I pray, I talk; God listens and nudges me along the right path. This time God spoke. And what he said, basically, was “It’s okay to lighten up. I’ll do the heavy lifting; you be patient.” Those words never left me for the rest of the horrific hospitalization. I was weak with sickness and being held incommunicado—there was so little I could do! There is nothing God can’t do.
I used to worry about how much was my responsibility and how much I could rely on God to do. I have heard many—too many—people say they “leave it up to God” when clearly they mean they are not going to get off their butts and do anything. Then somebody told me “You do 100%–and God will do 100%.” Sounded like a plan to me. If you work with God then he will do the heavy lifting. If you are not working with God then he will do nothing. That’s the way the contract is written.