Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Intimations of Mortality

Today was go-get-bled day. Among my many medications is a miracle drug that both keeps people like me alive and also kills vermin, and every month I have to give blood so my doctor can be certain it's not doing too much of a good thing. I make this necessity an outing, lunching in the hospital cafeteria (any meal I don't have to cook or clean up after is A Good Thing[tm]), buying my month's pills and potions in the lobby pharmacy, enjoying the air conditioning, hitting up the robot teller, and so on.

So I'm sitting in the hospital cafeteria, munching on my cod almondine and broccoli, when alarm squeals started blaring, and every 30 seconds for three or four minutes the loudspeaker repeated: "Code four, west facility, room 668. Code four, west facility, room 668 ...." One lady grabbed the sandwich off her tray and ran.

I've spent so much time in the hospital over the last few years that I used to have all the codes figured out, but I've forgotten just what a Code Four is --- but if the alarms are squealing and the loudspeakers are screaming it all over the complex, it definitely is Not A Good Thing[tm]. So I stopped munching broccoli, opened my hands, and began praying (silently, of course; this was a cafeteria): "Lord, have mercy on 668. Lord, give your grace to 668. Lord, have mercy on 668. Lord, comfort and care for 668 ...."

After the blaring stopped, and I returned to my cod and broccoli with cherries and Diet Dew, something dawned on me. I live alone. I have no kin less than a full day's drive away. I'm chronically ill with a disease that is incurable and fatal. Though I am doing all the things I need to do to collect on the "15 to 20 years of medically manageable symptoms", such as taking all my medicines, doing my physical therapy, using my oxygen, and so on, the fact is that I could easily be Called at any time. And the first notice of my passing, when my body finally stops working entirely, is very likely to be a blaring loudspeaker just like the one in the cafeteria this noontime, at some hospital or skilled nursing facility. I hope that when my time comes, and the loudspeakers start hollering about my room, that there is someone who takes pity on me and prays for me.

It's on that list of the Things Catholics Do, the Works of Mercy: Pray for both the living and the dead.


Steve Bogner said...

Things Catholics Do. I remember when I was 10 or so, during Mass an ambulance went by with sirens wailing. Fr Cox (our imported Irish priest) stopped Mass and requested we all silently pray for whoever was causing the ambulance to go by with sirens on. A few hundred of us did just that, and it was a great way to show a kid how a community works. That was 25-30 years ago.

More recently, a lady passed out at Mass at my former parish. Some nurse/parishioners nearby attended to her, called an ambulance and so on. Not once did our pastor pause, go check on her, or request we pray for her (though I prayed for her anyway). I was disappointed with how he acted; it just didn't seem to be a very Catholic way to act.

andrea said...

I was visiting a parish recently when a woman collapsed during the homily. The priest stopped and led everyone in an "Our Father" for her and for the paramedics who came to help her. How can you simply ignore what's going on?

Anonymous said...


Thanks for putting life in perspective. I work in a hospital, but (shamed to admit) don't pray at all for anyone here. I've prayed for you and thanks for the reminder for me to keep you in my prayers. Thanks also for the kick in the head (I know you didn't mean it) to get me to remember all the sick so close to me.


Anonymous said...

In the hospitals I used to work at (I'm a doctor) it was "Code Blue" - nothing would get my heart racing quicker than the unique tone my pager would make to alert me to a "code" and then hearing it over the loudspeakers as I sprinted. Where I did my internshp a few years back was a very big hospital and the distances we would sometimes have to cover were huge. I once heard of a doctor with asthma needing ICU care himself after running to a code. 4 out of 5 times they were usually a false alarm, which I guess was a good thing, but a total anticlimax though.

Paul (http://www.baggas.com/)

alicia said...

Steve - we had a medical emergency in the middle of mass once, and Father explained after Mass why he had not stopped. Apparently there is something in canon law that states that after a certain point in the Mass, you have to keep going. I don't remember the details, but after Mass Father thanked us for understanding and for adding our prayers to his for both the usual (Mass) and the unusual (the medical emergency).
Karen - when I was a kid, I used to see the Catholic kids corss themselves any time a siren was heard. It was a habit I eventually picked up, to offer a quick prayer both for the first responders and for the possible victims.