As an aging baby boomer, conversations with my doctor frequently include one of my least favorite five-syllable “C” words.
“You should have one,” she often says at my random annual physicals.
Drats, an exam a few years back revealed a few polyps. And so, the “C” word remained a fixture when visiting Dr. Should, my vigilant personal physician. If there hadn’t been any polyps I could have ignored another colonoscopy for maybe a decade. Frankly I’m fond of procrastination. It’s one of my favorite five-syllable words.
Unfortunately, polyps mean more follow-up exams. Alas, I’ll probably need another “soon.”
Here’s what I don’t like about a colonoscopy: the day before. If you haven’t experienced the joy of checking into your neighborhood endoscopy lab, anything I write or say to describe the preparation will be like explaining geometry to my dog. Ruff!
Then looking up to heaven, [Jesus] sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Mark 7:34
Oh, how I wish Jesus was visiting my neighborhood, doing a little quick and easy healing on the C-day. Why couldn’t my wife play the role of the woman demanding a cure for her daughter (Mark 7:26)? Something like, Larry’s wife begged Jesus to cast the polyp out of her husband. And, after a little give-and-take, presto, a cure. Or, why couldn’t I be the like the deaf man (Mark 7:32), brought by his friends to the Nazarene? There wasn’t a C-Day minus one for that healing miracle. Instead, a private conversation, a few well-chosen phrases and gestures, and the fellow departed, rejoicing in the sound of bird songs and children’s laughter.
Alas, Jesus didn’t arrive in my zip code. However, on C-Day minus one I consumed medication called Trilyte that could have been renamed Ephphatha. Yes, indeedy! Ephphatha was the Aramaic phrase Jesus spoke to the deaf man: be opened! And the unhearing heard! I dutifully gulped my Trilyte, a gut-busting three liters of the fluid, and soon: ephphatha!
+ + +
Oh yes, I remember the procedure.
Moments before being wheeled into the room where the doctor awaits with his miniature camera and (hopefully) steady hands, several nurses tended to me. One prepared to plunge a needle into my arm for an IV line while another nurse asked required questions before drugging me into la-la land.
In a hushed voice, Nurse Needle said, “This will hurt a little.”
Nurse Question, her voice louder, reading from a pre-op check list, asked, “How much pain can you tolerate?”
“Oops, sorry,” Nurse Needle muttered after jabbing the vein a few inches north of my middle finger. “Didn’t work, I’ll have to try another place.”
“What I mean,” Nurse Question continued, “is if there’s a one and ten scale, and ten is the worst, how much pain can you handle?”
I thought of when I broke my left leg in three places. I thought of when I went through a divorce. I thought of staying near a toilet while chugging gallons of Ephphatha. I thought of the nurse with a sharp instrument next to me.
“Oops, sorry,” Nurse Needle apologized again. “That vein in your arm looked perfect, but it just didn’t work.”
I grimaced. Nurse Needle was 0 for 2.
Through gritted teeth, I suggested to Nurse Question that pain levels were subjective. I mumbled something like, “What if I can take more pain in the future than I have experienced in the past? How can that be quantified?” She didn’t appear to value my philosophical inquiry. After all, she had a form to fill out.
Nurse Needle gave up. Nurse Question stopped querying me—I have no idea what number she provided for the pain scale—and circled to the other side of my bed. She attempted to insert the IV.
“It’s in,” Nurse Question reported. (Did I detect a smirk from her?)
How much pain can you handle? In all the Gospel accounts of healing, Jesus never asked anyone about their pain thresholds.
Please sir, cure my daughter. Please sir, let me hear.
“Now,” Jesus never said to those in need, “before I consider helping you, I wondered, on a scale of one to ten . . .”
After the colonoscopy, the doctor visited to explain the results were negative. Which, in medical-speak, is positive. No polyps this time. My colon, if you’ll pardon the expression, passed with flying colors.
I still think about Nurse Question. She was doing her job. On the operating table, even with a procedure as simple as a colonoscopy, the medical staff wanted me comfortable. How much pain can I handle? Truthfully, I don’t know. None of us really does.
And yet this I do know, and this I believe, as that woman approached Jesus with her worries about her daughter, and the deaf man’s friends brought him to Jesus, the Nazarene desired for them to be without pain.
I suppose, with the next person you encounter, you could play Nurse Question’s role and ask, “On a scale of one to ten . . .” But there’s no need to ask; pain is our common companion. It is the demanding guest who never departs; it is the Dear John letter that always arrives. We’ll take drugs to mask pain and withhold truth to avoid pain. And yet, for most of us, the most painful moments of our lives were also a prelude to change, and often enough, a change for the better.
And so, burdened with pain but believing God longs for us to be healed, friends brought a deaf man and a mother pleaded for her child’s health.
Be opened, Jesus said to them. Not open to wallowing in old pain or pretending life will be pain-free, but open to the risk of new life.