After a season of grand political events, this month’s post will be more narrowly focused and personal.
Last week I had my first-ever battle with kidney stones, from Saturday afternoon thru Thursday evening, when a surgeon at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta removed one stone and pulverized the other. In between there was quite a bit of constant pain.
As I reflect on this week of unexpected events, I have the following offerings:
Our American healthcare system is amazing, and we tamper with it at great risk. My only complaint was that the initial ER visit took seven hours. Throughout the week the people, systems, and care were all remarkable. Whatever we have done in the way of incentives, salaries, profits, government grants, gifts and research, we need to keep doing, or we will lose something that is irreplaceable. My sense is that it is that mix of programs, options, systems and solutions that we need to encourage across different states and institutions, thereby insuring competition and renewal, rather than imagining we can create one solution that will be good for all of us and for all time. That competitive mix, always focused by government incentives and broad regulations to serve the most possible Americans, will keep our healthcare system the best in the world.
The first stone was 6 mm in size and would not pass on its own from the ureter into the bladder, and so outpatient surgery was necessary. What would have happened to me a hundred years ago, or throughout most of human history? I would have suffered increasing pain for months and years, eventually unable to function, or I would have died, either from an unimaginable operation or sepsis. Last Saturday my productive life would have been over. But instead, in less than a week, I’m very much on the mend.
I have to pause and consider that more. We are so blessed to live when we do. Without meaning to, we take so much for granted.
Did you know that President Calvin Coolidge’s son died at age 16 from playing tennis at The White House? He got an infected blister, and since it would be four more years before Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming invented penicillin, the first antibiotic, the boy died. The best doctors could do nothing to save him from an infected blister.
I am trying to imagine a world, not long ago and throughout most of history, in which a blister, toothache, scratch, cough, kidney stone, earache or ulcer would most likely lead to long-lasting pain (with no painkillers), or death. And a world in which there was no anesthesia for an operation, no matter how deep or traumatic the cuts had to be.
How would we behave today if life without pain was almost inconceivable, and life itself was shorter and far more uncertain? Would we cherish and work on our closest relationships even more, knowing that they may well be temporary? Would we settle down earlier, and focus more on raising a family? Would we give more than lip service to depending on God?
I’m not sure, and want to think more about it. What I do know is that we seem to have exactly the opposite. Someone or some group must have the solution to anything that is painful or troubling. And quickly. Parents. Schools. Government. Economists. Science. Regulations. Tutors. Employers. Doctors. Google. Counselors. Priests. Research. Income. Someone or something must be able to solve this problem for me, and now!
I’m afraid that’s how we feel today, and me most of all. It’s getting worse in the internet age. And if solutions are not made available to me, then I must be a victim.
Another byproduct is that we believe every issue is solvable, from fixing the economy to curing diseases. We have to, because otherwise our world contains mystery and possible disconnects, which does not fit our we-know-everything worldview.
I am circling. This week has led me back to the very real world of not always perfect outcomes. Of waiting and not knowing the answers. Of humility. Of pain. Of waiting some more. Of realizing my blessings, and knowing that I had nothing to do with them. Of being grateful. Of greater empathy for those who are in much, much worse situations than I have just experienced.
And back to God, to trust Him completely. One of my mentors, Ken Boa, says that Christianity is the only faith in which pain and suffering are not seen as a mistake, or punishment, but actually as redemptive and instructive, part of God’s plan for us. This subject is much too large to address here, but God must have known that I needed some additional instruction. On this subject I also strongly recommend chapter two of Timothy Keller’s brilliant book, The Reason for God.
This is definitely an issue which benefits from a lot of study before one has to implement its lessons. As I enter the season of life when our bodies naturally break down, I plan to dig deeper into God’s Truth on this difficult subject, so that I may be salt and light to family, friends and those whom God sends my way.