Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Medical Procedure is a Lesson in Faith and Trust

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities Office

Recently I underwent a medical procedure at the local Kaiser hospital. I am coming to accept that part of the experience of entering middle age is that some medical tests and examinations are now mandated. The worst part of the experience, aside from the fasting and the gallon of artificially lemon flavored liquid I had to drink the day before, was all the waiting. Once in the prep area and after finally being wheeled into the room where the procedure was done, things went pretty quickly and smoothly. It seemed the doctor had just started when a moment later I heard the nurse saying “Wake up Mr. Valenzuela, you’re done.”

During my mother’s last decade of life, I spent a lot of time at that same Kaiser facility and several others too, waiting for her, speaking with doctors, nurses, clerks, techs and other assorted medical personnel. Those conversations, of course, were conducted not as a patient but as the support or advocate for a patient. It was not my body being poked or prodded. I was not the one undressing and putting on the one-size does not fit all hospital gown. As I laid on the gurney waiting to be wheeled into to the procedure room, I found myself praying, talking to God and to Mom, seeking peaceful surrender and apologizing to her for not fully appreciating what she had gone through during all those appointments, ER visits and hospital stays. Now I knew better. I had never really understood the profound sense of vulnerability one feels in such situations. I had done the prep, signed the consent form and now I was in other peoples’ hands. I had literally turned over my body to the care of a group of strangers and trusted that they would take proper care of me while I was under anesthesia. I now wonder if this profound sense of vulnerability was part of the intensity so many of us felt regarding the health care bill debate and still feel when dealing with our current health care system.

Turning over the care of one’s physical life to another is quite an experience. I could not help but reflect on this act of turning over. One of the most important acts of Christian faith is that we turn over our lives to the care of God who reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ. We say we trust God, have faith and ultimately depend on God as his children and as disciples of his Son. Carrie Underwood’s kitschy popular song “Jesus Take Wheel” says it well, “Jesus take the wheel, take it from my hands. I can’t do this all my self.”

As Catholics we believe this act of turning over first happens at our baptism which may have happened when, at least on a conscious level, God was still a stranger to us. Over the past few weeks since the procedure, I have wondered how persons without an explicit religious faith could handle this very real turning over. I had a sense of peace that ultimately I was in God’s hands, though I must admit the reassuring words and professional manner of the doctor and others during the procedure, along with the anesthesia, sure helped!

As Catholics, we know baptism sets our fundamental orientation toward God. Yet our experience of faith also tells that turning over our lives to God is a daily task. Each morning we awaken and are given a new opportunity to say yes to the God. This is this God who promises to be with us always; who know formed us in our mothers’ wombs, who calls by name and who accompanies with us in and through our daily journey.

For Sharing and Reflection:
Describe a time you had to turn over something (one) important to you to another’s care. How easy or hard was this for you?

How much of your life have you turned over to God? What is still in your control? What are you feeling called to turn over.

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