(Reader Discretion Advised for People with Squeamish Stomachs)
The Friday after Thanksgiving I did what just about everyone does—I snacked on a piece of leftover meat. But the extra dry (restaurant-bought) chunk got stuck in my throat and I couldn’t swallow. I’ve had about two dozen or so of these unable-to-swallow episodes in the last decade so after a night with no sleep and constant futile attempts to get the piece to either go down or come up, my wife, Lori and I headed to the UCLA Medical Center emergency room (we were staying just down the road) to get some answers.
The ER doctor said she had just the thing, and soon a nurse came in and administered a shot in my right arm. She handed me a bucket and announced, “That will make you throw up!” As she turned to leave, I asked the obvious questions, “Are you kidding me?” “Shouldn’t I stand next to that sink?” “How long will it take?” “What if I don’t actually barf?” She smiled, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.”
So I sat there holding the bucket, waiting for, well, the inevitable…thinking, “I don’t think life is designed to be like this—anticipating the worst.” As I waited three questions came to mind:
Question 1: Do the people around me expect me to vomit?
My son, Jake, met us at the hospital, and he was sitting on a chair next to me. I noticed that every time I moved, Jake would lean back, turn away and cringe. My wife, Lori, was behind me, slyly moving further and further away. It was extremely disconcerting to realize that my slightest shift caused them to brace for cover.
I’d like my family, my teammates, people I lead, and the people I live with to feel safe around me, not to expect vomit. I guess I’d have to admit that there have been times in my life when my so-called “stuff” was coming out so regularly that those closest to me weren’t as protected as they should have been.
Question 2: Do the people in front of me expect me to vomit?
An older gentleman, a hospital volunteer stepped into the room to see if we needed anything. Jake asked for some water, then the man looked at me and asked, “How about you, do you want something to drink?” I said, “No thanks, I’m just waiting to barf.” He muttered, “Huh?” I smiled, “The nurse just gave me a shot to induce vomiting, and I can’t swallow anyway, so no thanks on the drink.”
The man comically stepped back and covered himself with the curtain that closed off the room. We laughed. But whenever he returned to my room, and whenever a nurse or doctor peeked in, they always stood at a distance, covered with that curtain. Again, it was pretty disturbing to watch people I was talking to back away from me.
I suspect that some of us have a reputation for vomiting on those we are actually trying to help. The church has been accused of vomiting on certain groups of people lately. Some avoid church altogether because they don’t want to deal with what some so-called believers spew.
Question 3: Am I expecting vomit?
I sat there holding my bucket expecting the worst and realizing that some people live their entire lives that way. They expect barf. What a terrible way to live. God doesn’t want us to be incessantly anticipating vomit.
Okay, I know that Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation…” –John 16:33 (NASV) (The UCLA Med Center version reads, “In this world you will have regurgitation…”) But Jesus promises that we will overcome. “But take courage; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33 (NASV)
I want to expect the best. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?—Romans 8:32 (NIV)
I want to live with a bucket waiting for God’s blessings, not my own barf.
So I waited. And I waited. The nurse kept peering in, “Anything yet?” Nope. “That’s odd,” she quipped, “the last guy I gave that shot to emptied out in less than two minutes.” But I never threw up. I’m not sure if that is a good sign or a bad sign for my stomach. And I guess I have an excuse—if I ever throw up on you, I can blame it on that shot I had that Saturday in Westwood.
No vomit for me. So I ended up having an “endo—insert a bunch of strange syllables here—oscopy.” They ran a camera down my throat—an hour-long procedure—to clear me my tube and it turns out I have “esophageal—insert several strange words here—itis.” The condition is fairly common for folks like me who have had severe allergies for a while.
Treatment includes no meat for a while, a soft diet, some medication, possibly steroids and maybe even surgery. I need to deal with my own stuff so I don’t put others on edge.
Jesus said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”—Matthew 15:10-11 (NIV)
So I made it through this little ordeal without vomit, with a new appreciation for soup, and with an amazing sense of support from my family—my daughter, Tricia, and my son, Scott and his wife, Sue came to the ER too—we had a memorable day off hanging out at the hospital! But I also came away with a stark reminder that I must continually work on my own issues. I want to anticipate God’s goodness, and I want those around me and in front of me to anticipate good things as well.