A Split Second of Clarity

By Keith Miller | March 16, 2010

Last November I had surgery at a day-surgery center, under a general anesthetic and then went home after a few hours.  I always clearly request “no narcotics,” for pain relief, since I have had severe problems with certain drug reactions in the past—both in and out of medical situations.  But the new drug seemed to be ok, that is, until I took it.

Since some of you may still be looking for entertaining drugs for weekend adventures, I will not identify the drug, except to say that I was, they tell me, very entertaining for a while, but not for the Christian circuit.  And then came the edema, a part of the reaction to the drug that puffed me up like a toad.  And when they finally got a diuretic in me I lost 8 pounds in nine hours, (or that’s what I think they said).  The pain in the area of the surgery was intense—and saying it that way feels like minimization as I write it.

I am telling this to you because although I finally got back to health before the year was over—or what passes for health in the 82-year-old body I inhabit—I had some sort of fluke accident toward the end of February and split the skin near the old surgery in a vulnerable area.  The situation required instant attention and possibly some very negative consequences if I didn’t get it taken care of.  After checking into the hospital, and much fast but careful re-testing (because of my age and the short time since the first surgery), I found myself once more slipping into unconsciousness, staring up into the big lights in surgery. 

Now this was not to be a big deal, the surgeon said (a surgeon who is very good at his job, and very careful not to take risks with his patients’ health).  But having two “knock you clear out” surgeries that close to each other is not to be taken lightly by people in “my group” (the really old guys)—especially after a bad drug reaction following the first round.  Although the medical people involved are very good and did their jobs well, I was not a happy camper.  I had things I had to do!  I was behind on a writing commitment, and I had lost time having my system messed up by the combination of the anesthetic aftermath and ticketless drug trip I’d had a few days earlier (actually several weeks, but it seemed like “only yesterday” to me.)  I was really antsy to get back to work.

But anyway, at 2:00 a. m. the morning following the second surgery, a new night nurse was trying to insert a catheter into my very pain-filled body—the second catheter for me in the previous four hours.  A wonderful young nurse trainee came in to report quietly to the catheter nurse some details about two female patients who were just arriving on our hall.  Now my nurse, who was working so conscientiously on me, was under a new time constraint!  When I closed my eyes, I saw—and felt—a medical training movie I’d seen years before of someone receiving one of the first electrical shock treatments.  When the pain hit me during the initial “needle threading” probes, it seemed like nothing was touching the bed but my heels and the back of my head.  Then, just as I realized I was about to morph into an angry, irrational, profane, mean-spirited and commanding old white Texas male—something amazing happened.

In a split second of clarity I remembered Jesus and the Father, and my commitment to be present to people wherever I am and to try to help them.  I recalled that He was with us in that darkened room with the bright light that was revealing me—in several ways.  Instantly I became quiet inside and thought about this dedicated young nurse—and I could feel the pressure under which she worked. 

I prayed, silently, “Lord, help me to be your person now.  I am exhausted too, but I am only thinking about myself, and my impatience and bracing for the pain.”  Then I found myself caring for this harassed young nurse as if she were my granddaughter.  I heard myself saying in a quiet confident voice, “Can you stop just a second?” 

She looked up, evidently experiencing a very different patient than she had been dealing with—an unhappy and potentially irascible and explosive old man.  When her eyes met mine I said calmly, “I’m so sorry all this is descending on you at once,” (as I nodded toward the speaker over which a voice was calling for her).  “I know that you need to check on those women who just got to their rooms, and I’m really not uncomfortable with regard to the pressure to urinate.  If you’d like to go and check on those two women, and can get back to me in forty-five minutes, I’ll be fine.” And I touched her lightly on the shoulder.

She gave me the strangest look.  There was total peace in the room.  Then she smiled for the first time, and seemed to relax.  And in that instant, my pain was gone. 

I said something like, “Go on.  I’ll pray for you and the two women.  I’ll be fine.”  And, I really meant it.  My fear and pain had disappeared, and I realized that the young nurse and I—from different continents and perhaps cultures that had been worlds apart—were somehow sitting together in the soft light—in the Kingdom of God..

I was amazed to realize that I was content to be just who I was right then—and where I am in my rickety life right now…if I never get caught up.  And I felt very blessed.  


When I got home, I thought about you, the people who may be reading this blog.  And since I didn’t have any spiritual message written to send you, I decided to send this note with a message from Jesus that I recite almost every morning:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.”  (and)  “You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourself cared for.”  (See Mt. 5:3 and 7, The Message)

P.S.  By the way as the nurse smiled and nodded…the catheter was in.

Lord, thank you that in a split second we can connect with your constant presence, even in the midst of excruciating circumstances…at the end of our rope.  Thank you for your transforming love.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

3 comments | Add One

  1. Ardie - 03/20/2010 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks! – and congratulations for your victory over pain (with a lot of help from our Lord)

  2. Dick Birdsall - 04/16/2010 at 6:36 pm

    back in the 70s you and Bruce transfomed my ministry by tranforming my life. I attended two Festivals of Hopes in Anaheim CA. All through my life and miinistry I was looking for the authentincity of the personal. I don’t think I ever said thank you so I am saying it now THANK YOU!!!

  3. Amy - 04/23/2010 at 5:49 am

    Many thanks!

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It is Keith’s genius to take very elusive and complicated material and make it understandable… His own rigorous honesty is a living mirror which can inspire us… The Taste of New Wine is today as important as it was, when it was first published—in fact, I feel it is more relevant than ever… It has increasing importance for the Christian life in our time.
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