Today I go back to the hospital, and one of the things I feel that I need to do is to have another conversation with a patient who has given up. I don't want to go into details, so as to maintain his anonymity, but essentially he is facing a difficult and debilitating treatment of what amounts to the slow rotting of parts of his body. If he lets the treatment occur, no clinicians have told me he's likely to die just yet. He'll lose mobility, have to endure pain, but will be able to return to his life.
Yesterday I decided I wasn't giving up until he talked to me. He hadn't talked to nurses except to refuse even basic care (blood sugar checks, wound care, etc.) and hadn't talked to doctors at all. He was just in the fetal position on the bed staring out the window. I pulled a couple chaplain tricks, and got him to talk to me - barely.
It isn't often that you see someone that desolate. Its haunting just to think about and remember even in my living room.
And it turns out that he is Christian, and today is Good Friday.
Normally we don't really do anything for Good Friday as such in the hospital except work to facilitate patients and staff who want to observe in some way. But I was thinking about this guy, and of some way I could reach him. Good Friday seems like the day to face a guy who is choosing to die.
As I thought about it, I came to a slightly deeper understanding of Good Friday. It wasn't so much that Jesus was deciding to die - is a temporary death even a death at all? Rather, I think that Jesus was choosing to suffer for the sake of resurrection. To suffer torture and the grave, but not to succumb to it.
So this is what I'm going to bring to this guy tomorrow. Its going to be really hard, and I'm way past the point where I think my words will be magic and have some huge impact on him. But maybe this guy sees death looming over him (Hell, given his situation, I'd feel it) and can't let himself see past it...because of the pain, or the humiliation that comes with losing mobility you once had, or the frankly icky nature of what he's suffering from.
I see one hope for this guy, really, and it has to lie past the pain and the death and the mess. It has to be some kind of resurrection, some kind of return to life that is healthier than it was before. I think he has that chance, and I don't see much else he has to hope for.
It doesn't make him Jesus for making the choice to live despite death any more than I'm Jesus for talking to him. It's my job, and my reasons for putting this much time in are selfish. I feel awful that this guy has given up. I don't want to watch him deteriorate, and watch the nurses get upset and take it personally because they care so much, and the doctors throw up their hands because he can't heal if they can't cut, and they can't cut if he doesn't let them.
So this guy has a choice either way - choose death, or choose life beyond a kind of death. I know I can't choose for him, or be in his head, but I want to clearly say what I see.