A Doctor who bears our pain
It is as if there are two parallel Holy Weeks. One is the "normal" parish Holy Week and the other is the one in the hospital, where the round of suffering and death seems to be more intense than ever at this time of year. The challenge must surely be to apply the knowledge and the grace of the one to the other, and perhaps that is why God sees to it that I should have these two experiences juxtaposed.
On Holy Saturday I was called to a mettlesome Irish spinster lady of venerable age. I had seen her already several times during the week, but the senior house officer (SHO) called me because the patient had had a fall and was refusing an operation on her broken shoulder and arm. I agreed to talk to her, and began the painstak ing process of trying to understand the irrational factors affecting such a refusal. Now, I say irrational, that is not to dismiss them. I don't believe in the notion of cold rationality; human beings are more complicated than that, especially when we are in pain. I mean they come to decisions by more than rationality. The heart, the feelings, the spirit, must equally be convinced.
I don't think this lady was ever really refusing the consent for the operation. I just think she was asserting something of the freedom still left to her, the freedom of will in playing for time to come to terms with what had happened. We talked things through to the poiet where we agreed that the operation seemed the least worst alternative, and I called the SHO. A different doctor appeared with his consent form. "Hallo Miss X. I understand you have consented to this operation. I am obliged to tell you that the likely risks associated with it are infection, bleeding and possible nerve damage." That is rational, brutally so and for a moment I thought it was going to set
us back to square one. I know he is obliged to say it, and I was reminded of Alec Guinness, who told the doctor that he knew he was obliged to tell him all the risks associated with his cataract operanon, but he would put his hands over his ears while he told them to him. I know that he has to tell her, but frankly, what sort of a position is a frightened 87-year-old in to make a reasoned judgment of what the relative risk is. She is in agony with a severe limb fracture; it's too much information.
She then asked a percipient question about the kind of anaesthetic which would be used, and the doctor with the consent form told her that as he was only from orthopaedics he couldn't answer her question. The anaesthetist would come and explain to her, but until she had signed the consent form and "set the ball rolling" the anaesthetist couldn't discuss the anaesthesia. It's the usual Alice in Wonderland world of the public sector which cannot see beyond its procedures. According to those she has given an informed consent. In my biased opin
ion, she has been told a whole lot of stuff that she didn't need to know, and nothing about what she wanted to, but it all looks great on paper. How very now.
Then I had to watch a doctor take several attempts to put a tube in her arm. The poor woman screamed and writhed, making it a feverishly difficult task for the doctor, but eventually it was done, and the patient subsided into a kind of peace. -After all, it's nothing to what Jesus suffered." she said piously.
She was echoing my thoughts to the extent that I was trying to think of how what He suffered related to the concrete reality of here and now on a hospital ward. How to relate this to the thousand and one things about celebrating the Holy Week ceremonies that were floating round my head? I came up with no answer except the one given by the woman, in the sense that there is no place we can be where he has not been, nowhere we can say "God has no experience of this, his almightiness makes him
remote from this," except that of sin, and even that he chose to understand by taking its wages of death cn himself, like a doctor who elects to bear the pain of the symptoms he is treating in his patients to better dose then.
The other place where I was very conscious of the reality of the power of the resurrection at work vvas it the Sacrament of Penance. Several hours are sprat in he confessional during Ilsoly Week , and in that see-et plice one really does sense the relief as burdens arelaid down , often after may yees and shameful thingsexposid to the healing of grate . Even after saying them and Iheareg them many times, there is nothing routine or automatic about the words of ans oludon: "God the Father of mercies, through thedeath and resurrection ()flies Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the lleoly Spiuit among us for in forgiveness of sins.."
'That is what all th:activiy and liturgy of the pet few days has been about It is tie motive for the suffering am the cause of the joy. d the hope of the days to tonne.