Words of Comfort: Your Breathing Might Stop

IMG_0508On the morning of Sunday, February 10, I was a tad late arriving at our church to open it up. Instead of 5:30, it was closer to 6 by the time I pulled into the parking lot.

This was commitment Sunday, the first step for our congregation pledging their financial support for another year. Perhaps, the unwritten name for this Sunday should be Tension Sunday or Anxiety Sunday, but that’s another story.

I entered the building at a quicker pace. Shutdown the alarm, and started my routine—unlocking doors, turning on lights, checking PA systems, and gauging the temperaments of our three boilers. It was 19 degrees this morning. 

As soon as I walked in the Sanctuary, I knew the steam boiler was being cantankerous. I double checked the thermostat. The setting had not been changed. So, I walked down into Eaton Hall where this boiler lives.

In the mechanical room, my relatively young friend sat idle, cold, and with its red alarm light on. My internal muttering started—you blankety, blankety, blankety, blank. Yes, in God’s house on a Sunday morning, but I was muttering internally, so maybe He couldn’t hear me.

I hit the reset button. The red light went away. The boiler fired. My heart had hope. The boiler sounded like it wanted to work. I heard the cadence of its normal clicks, the water level was good, and then silence. In a blink, the boiler shutdown, the red alarm light beamed back to life. The only sound was the return of my blankety blanking now a whisper of exasperation.

I walked back in the Sanctuary and placed an SOS call for service to our HVAC company. Then, I continued my opening up routine.

The routine was predictably normal until I came into the foyer where the women’s restroom for the Welcome Center is located. My nose picked up an odor, a stench. I knew the culprit, a small floor drain in the closet for the hot water heater. 

This is an under used drain, and when the water in the trap dries out the wonderful aromas of the connecting sewer line seep into the air. More blankety blanking, except now I’m sure the big guy upstairs can hear my whining. 

I remove the drain covering, start a flow of hot water from the large custodial sink down the hall, pour some Lysol down the stinky drain, and then pour more hot water down the drain. The odor dissipates, and I continue the building opening.

A phone call comes alerting me that the HVAC technician is in route. By that time, our altar guild leader, Mrs. Berry, and senior pastor, Larry Lenow, had arrived. I let them know about the blankety blank boiler, and I walk down to my office.

At 7:25, my phone rings. I expect it is the HVAC technician, but it is my wife, the Commander Supreme. As soon as she starts to talk, I know something is wrong. She isn’t in tears, she is in pain. While reaching to shutdown the alarm clock with her left arm, something went wrong. My wife, the Commander Supreme isn’t a whiner like me. She needs me at home immediately.

No sooner than I hang up with the Commander, my phone rings again. It is the HVAC technician. 

He has never been to Trinity before. I figure out where he is on our grounds. I find him, and direct him to the closest entrance to the mechanical room. 

On the way, to the mechanical room, I let Mrs. Berry know about the challenge awaiting me at home. 

I get the technician into the mechanical room, explain what has transpired, apologize for leaving,  and head home.

At the house, upstairs, I find the Commander in pain, but trying to ready herself for the ride to the emergency room. Somehow, we complete those now cumbersome tasks without too much blankety blanking.

Gingerly, we make it down the stairs. I grab her coat and purse. I get her in the car and buckled in. Then I realize my wallet is in the house. Another unwanted pause, I hustle back in and out.

The drive to Henrico Doctors is short, but not without pain. Some bumps in the road and quick turns jar the left shoulder.

We park into front of the emergency room entrance. Slowly, we walk in, give the attendant a brief explanation, he quickly takes basic check-in info, the computer reacts positively, a young nurse walks us back into a singular room, an explanation for the visit is given, and then I go move our car.

Things move pretty quick. A doctor appears, more questions, then a plan is hatched—IV for pain and X-rays are ordered. 

A nurse arrives. The commander is hooked up to a vital signs monitor. The nurse bravely searches my wife’s overly soft veins for an entry point. Even though I’m not looking at this expedition, I announce that I am bailing out. Poking needles and blood work are not one of my passions. 

The x-ray tech arrives, and the Commander is briskly whisked away.

She returns from the x-ray work, she is reconnected to the monitor and the IV, and we wait for the doctor.

It isn’t too long, and he comes back. He confirms the shoulder has popped out of joint, no tears or chips can be seen.

The doctor explains a mild, short lasting sedative will be used, so that he can properly manipulate the shoulder and pop it back in place.

But, he did offer some comforting words about the sedative and how a patient might react to it. With this sedative, he states:  “Your breathing might stop, but don’t worry, we are well equipped to handle such an occurrence if your body reacts in that way to the sedative.” 

I’m thinking to myself, I’ve been stepping in cow pies all morning, and now you just tossed out the ultimate one.

Even though the risk is slight, the doctor is required to bring us those words of comfort.

At that point, I leave the room, and wait in a small room reserved for parents who have a child in the pediatric emergency room. 

Silently, I pray to my blankety blank Pal. I am still trying to figure out why He continues to tolerate me.

Within a short period of time, the doctor comes out. He confirms to me that the procedure went well. But, to be sure, he has ordered another set of x-rays.

I re-enter the Commander’s room. She is sleeping. She looks content. Gradually, she stirs. Then sleep returns. The nurse checks in, more time is needed before we depart to allow the sleepy drug to wear off. 

There is one more follow-up from the Doctor the x-rays confirm the shoulder is back in place.

I sit and listen. 

I hear the cries of a child. The pediatric ER is just a few steps from us. Next door, ER staff and ambulance personnel are prepping an elderly patient to return to a retirement facility. I can hear the care in their voices as they transition the patient from one gurney to the other.

The extremes of the human condition are present everyday of the year in this hospital.

And of course, before we leave, the grim bandit of finance appears. 

Armed with a computer on a cart, I joke with the finance person—I was hoping we could escape before your arrival. She laughs.

We pay what the hospital requires for this visit, and since we paid on the spot, there was a slight discount. Even though our health care system is out of whack, I am thankful that we have health insurance.

The grogginess has dissipated. Arm in a sling, loaded with paperwork, we walk out.

It has been an interesting story morning— a stubborn boiler, a stinky floor drain, and a pesky shoulder. What more could a director of operations want?

 Well, how about wedding vows?

Maybe you remember some of those words especially—“in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,”

Come on Bill, are you going to tell me after all of that blankety blanking you did about the boiler and the floor drain that you now “love and cherish them in their sickness and health”?

Well, I might. Think about it.

 It is tough being a boiler. Imagine generating all of that heat. That’s a lot of stress, parts are going to wear out.

And for the floor drain, just consider being connected to the flushing of all that human body waste. We’re not talking about pleasant fragrances lilting through the air like a French perfume on a perfect spring morning.

So maybe, I do have a different perspective for the boiler and the floor drain.

But, I do think about those wedding vows and that young ER doctor and those troublesome words he used —“ your breathing might stop.”

If I lost my Commander Supreme, my breathing might as well stop too.

Life is unpredictable. 

Doesn’t matter who we are.

If I expect to have a chance at surviving boilers, floor drains, and the Commander Supreme’s wacky shoulder, I need to improve my connection to 1 Corinthians 13:

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

At home, I have a t-shirt from the Wesley Foundation at Virginia Tech. The director of this campus ministry, Bret Gresham, gave me the t-shirt a few years ago. 

Printed on the back of the t-shirt are the following words:

“Love out loud”

Remember life is unpredictable.

Loving out loud is acceptable.

If I can blankety blank out loud, I can love out loud too.

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