Cuss Words Can Be a Compliment

By JIM NICHOLS

Perhaps we try to make this too complicated. God’s requests of us as His people are relatively few; the list may be challenging, but they are not mysterious. The dilemma for us is not that we do not know what God desires; we just do not want to behave that way.

The hospital announcement requested a chaplain to a public area within the building. It was far enough away that it took me several minutes to walk there and, when I arrived, I found nothing unusual. A worker there said, “They already took him to the emergency room.”

When I arrived in the ER, I was told the appropriate room number. In that room a patient was lying on the bed with a frightened face as he held his heart area. There was a cut near his nose. His t-shirt had a bit of blood on one sleeve. There was no flurry of activity; as a matter of fact, I was the only other person in the room. Soon a nurse entered, and she said what every other person entering the room said, “Why did you just leave? We were trying to take care of you.” She asked him some identification questions and did a couple of medical things and left. Even though he was still pushing on his chest and crying tears, there seemed to be no urgency from the staff. 

Another person entered the room and asked him why he had left; he gave no answer as before. 

I had already introduced myself and was trying to understand the situation. He said a few things that helped fill me in. Apparently, he had come to the ER earlier that day with chest pains and had been seen in one of the exam rooms. He had been given an IV. For reasons I never understood, he disconnected the IV and left the ER. He walked to the other side of the hospital and collapsed there. That was the initial intercom call for a chaplain.

Patients choosing to leave a hospital before the treating physician recommends discharge has its own acronym (AMA)—against medical advice. It is not an uncommon event and, because of patient autonomy, creates a difficult situation for the medical staff. 

As this episode unfolded, the patient began to talk with me. He asked me, as a chaplain, what church I was from. When I said that a hospital chaplain is a chaplain for everyone, he accepted it. He somewhat identified with a local church and said he was a “preacher’s kid,” although he had an air of defiance in his voice. He spoke of his wife who died recently. He kept trying to rearrange himself on the bed, but clearly that caused more chest pains. Occasionally, a different medical person came in to check on him, each of them asking him why he had left earlier. I asked about other family members (“Can I phone someone for you? Does anyone know you are here?”). He did not respond. He seemed alone.

As he talked, however, he began to raise a hand toward me. I thought he was trying to find a less painful body position, but soon he said, “Please hold my hand.” I did. He continued to talk and asked me to pray, which I did.

I said, “You understand these medical people act like they are irritated with you because you left earlier. They are trying to help you and you seemed ungrateful. I am sure they would like it if you apologized to them.” Just then, someone entered to put a blood pressure cuff on him, and the patient said, “I’m sorry.” Subsequently, he said that to every other person who entered.

Part of the wonder and problem of these situations is that one does not have context for what is occurring. It helps a lot when I initially explain that I am not a medical person. (“See, I don’t even have anything sharp.”) He was clearly relaxing, however, and much more trusting of those entering, and they reciprocated.  

Eventually, he said, “You have other people to see. You can go. I just needed somebody to give a sh**. Thank you.”

It was one of the stranger chaplain compliments I have gotten, but I will take it.

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain

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