Monday, July 24, 2006

That's All, Doc!

It happened one day in the Pastoral Care
class at seminary. The topic was visitation
in hospitals, but within the first five minutes
of discussion, it quickly disintegrated into
doctor-bashing. I was surprised.

Maybe it was because my best friend from
college had ended up going into medicine,
and I had acquired an understanding of what
one has to actually go through to get that
medical degree. Maybe it was that as an
older, second-career student, I had a little
more experience in visiting doctors. Maybe
I was (am?) naive. But I just couldn't believe
some of the attitudes expressed that day by
fellow seminarians.

Don't get me wrong. I have encountered some
pretty arrogant doctors, who are afflicted with
ITIGS (I Think I'm God Syndrome). I've seen
doctors who treat nurses and other staff as if
they were there only to wait on them. I've
been on the receiving end of doctors whose
bedside manner made one wish a dead fish
was sitting there, instead of that person.

But I have also been fortunate to know and to
have been served by tenderly compassionate,
incredibly gifted, undeniably patient people
who, when they put on that stethoscope each
day, did not take off their humanity first.
And I have seen doctors who were willing
to learn, to grow, to be transformed as they
encountered Teddy, with all his many diagnoses
as well as his gifts.

Later today, I have to say good-bye to one
of these doctors. For the last ten years, I
have been blessed to be served by a family
doctor who, indeed, became a member of
the family. Over the years, he has helped
me to deal with the grief, the depression,
the anger, the frustration that came from
Teddy and his struggles. He has been patient
with me as I struggle with my weight. He
always took the time, and gave me his
undivided attention and compassion, to listen
to me talk about the almost-debilitating stress
from church life and the pain of raising Teddy.

He is a gifted doctor, who recognizes from whom
his gifts come. He is a wonderful role model on
how one works with others, for I have been fortunate
to see him interact with his nurse as well as the
medical students he teaches. And he has taught
me so much about caring for others, and looking
beyond the quick fix to the long-term transformations
which can lead to better life. I always appreciated
the fact that he was probably more likely to suggest
some sort of 'alternative medicine' (walking, massage,
stretching, etc.) than just scribbling something on a
prescription pad. And I value the fact that he was
willing to admit, "I don't know all the answers."

So while I was stunned and saddened to hear that he
was leaving, I am not surprised to learn the reason.
He is going back to his hometown to serve in a
teaching hospital, to work with the residents there,
something he loves to do. But the main reason is
that his aging parents still live there, and he wants
to be closer to them, to be able to care for them,
to love them, to support them, to serve them.
His last act of caring for me is to model for me
the gift of caring for others.

I will miss him. I will miss his gentle, but firm,
insistence that I take better care of myself. I will
miss our discussions about faith and church. I will
miss our conversations as we either bemoaned or
celebrated our favorite baseball team, the Cincinnati

I'm not sure if I owe him my life, though I know my
life is healthier and better because of his care. But
I do know that I owe him Teddy's life. For he was
the one who called one Saturday, after midnight,
regarding Teddy. He had seen him earlier that day,
about a lump on the side of Teddy's neck, which
the nurse and doctor at the facility where Teddy
was at, thought might be a swollen gland. He
called because he thought there might be more
going on, and suggested we take Teddy down to
Children's Hospital on Sunday afternoon for
further diagnosis. Call it intuition, call it a hunch,
call it a nudge by God, it was his call that helped
us to discover the cancer exploding through Teddy
(already Stage Four at that point), and got him
the surgery, the chemo, the care that saved his life.

As a minister, people sometimes ask me if I think
that God still performs healing miracles in the
world today. And when they do, I just look at them
and say, "Let me tell you about Dr. Gebhardt."

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pity Party Cancelled

Don't you just hate some of the stunts God pulls?

I was all set to have a big Pity Party today. After all, it was 20 years ago today that I was ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. It was one of those 'mountaintop' moments: family and friends, a special piece by the choir, sermon by my ministry-mentor, a big luncheon, lots of feel-good moments.

And on the 20th anniversary? Well, I got up and put the laundry in the machine; cleaned up the hairball the cat had left on the floor; had my usual bowl of cheerios and fruit; found more grey hair in my head and beard; came to the office, where the stacks of unsolved issues and things undone were still waiting for me.

No cards, no calls, no party, no pats on the back, no Sgt. Pepper or any band marching around in the parking lot of the church. No one telling me how wonderful I am, or how much I have done for them. No email from Time magazine to interview me as one of the top preachers in the country. No call from the 'Today' show to comment on the latest crisis. It seems that no one noticed, or cares.

Boo hoo hoo! Poor me, poor me, poor me.

Then, I sat down to write my poem/prayer for the back of Sunday's bulletin, and the Holy Spirit reminded me of what this day and every day, what ministry, is all about:

i would prefer
to be left
leaning against the wall,
shuffling my two left feet,
watching the world
twirl by;
but you take me by the hand
to teach me
the dance steps
of grace;

when i walk near
the piano,
it shudders,
i will not sit down;
but you take my fingers
and place them on the keys,
"play, play with joy, play!"

even with
the biggest bucket,
i can't carry a tune;
but you push me
out onto the stage,
introducing me as
the new soloist
in the Good News Choir.

i will celebrate your joy,
sing your hope,
play your love,
leaping and whirling
in your grace

Don't you just hate it when God does that?

(c) 2006 Thom M. Shuman