Years ago, when I was working at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a mishap occurred while I was in the process of removing an ON-Q* pump from a post-surgical patient. (An ON-Q* pump is basically a skinny, flexible catheter that delivers local anesthetic directly into a fresh surgical site.) When I went to snip the skin suture holding the catheter in place, I accidentally cut the catheter, which promptly retracted into the patient’s chest.
I don’t know if you can appreciate the level of panic I experienced at that moment. It was five o’clock, and I prayed for Jesus to return immediately. Since he didn’t, after about 30 seconds, I opted for plan B and paged our chief thoracic surgery fellow, Luis. Even though Luis was post-call, he returned my page, and within ten minutes, he was at the patient’s bedside. We spent the next hour-and-a-half working on locating the catheter and getting it out. After I obtained a bedside ultrasound machine, Luis used it to determine the general whereabouts and orientation of the catheter. He then anesthetized the patient’s incision and partly re-opened it at the bedside using sterile technique.
The family stayed in the room and watched.
After what seemed like an eternity of careful manual searching, Luis shook his head and quietly said that the patient would probably have to go back to the operating room. I about died. But in a last-ditch effort, he directed his fingertips in a slightly different direction than the one in which he had been working. Suddenly, he felt the tip of the catheter, managed to get a hold of it, and pulled it out. I’m sure the entire floor heard our shouts of rejoicing. As if we were on a labor and delivery unit.
One thing (out of many things) that stood out about that incident is how gracious everyone was. For example, I apologized profusely to the patient, but in response, she winked at me and said, “I’m sure you stayed up all night thinking about how to ruin my day. Don’t sweat it, dear. Jesus took care of us.” The family in the room also pretty much expressed nothing but appreciation for all our efforts. And Luis… well, he went above and beyond the call of duty in about five different ways. You see, he had already been at the hospital for 30 hours, and he had been in his car getting ready to exit the parking garage to meet his wife for dinner when I paged him. He had come anyway, without mentioning any of this when he arrived at the nursing unit to bail me out. And when the attending physician, who was out of town when all this took place, came back and received my guilt-ridden confession, he chuckled and said, “It’s all good. If you’re taking care of patients, it’s bound to happen.”
I was reminded of this story yesterday when my husband and I were installing a new dishwasher in our kitchen. I had failed to properly tighten the hose connections, so when I opened the shut-off valve, water flooded the floor underneath the dishwasher, traveled down the wall behind it, penetrated an out-of-reach area of our basement, and pooled on the ceiling of my mother-in-law’s bedroom. I felt a level of dread and panic that rivaled what I had felt during the catheter incident. I started muttering (and occasionally clearly articulating) various curse words and brutally berating myself. But my husband calmly jumped into assessment mode. He grabbed a flashlight and a ladder and headed down to the basement. When he reappeared, he transitioned into remediation mode, taping some towels to a long stick and disappearing into the basement again. Then he grabbed our oscillating fan and an extension cord. When we had both done everything we could do, he hugged me and assured me that everything would be fine. “@#%$ happens. First world problems.” Not a hint of reproach.
I didn’t sleep very well last night, since it always takes a while for me to come down from a full-scale fight-or-flight response (plus I’m recovering from shingles, which developed last week following a stressful month of handling a family crisis), but I got up this morning feeling incredibly grateful for the grace that’s been extended to me by others in moments when I have royally messed up. The memory of that gift of grace from all those years ago, coupled with my husband’s graciousness last night, put me more deeply in touch with God’s expansive love and generosity.
Feeling so unconditionally loved made me want to love others better, beginning with my own child, whom I manage more often than enjoy, simply because I let so many things in life get the better of me. I dropped everything this afternoon and went on a two-hour, 3.2-mile scooter ride with her that involved stopping for cake and kombucha (obviously, one offsets the effects of the other), navigating intimidating intersections, and window shopping. We had the best time.
This evening, as I’m wrapping up this post and getting ready for bed, I feel a new level of kinship with the disreputable woman in Luke 7:36-50—the one who dared to walk into a den of disapproval and misunderstanding to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, her hair, and her perfume. God’s love, when it speaks into the chaos and brokenness of life—whether in the form of a person or the scriptures or a still, small voice—makes us more resilient in the face of opposition and our love more extravagant. My legs are gonna be so sore tomorrow, but my heart is full tonight.