Last week, my ENT prescribed a strong antibiotic for a persistent infection I've been struggling with for quite awhile. He cautioned me that this particular antibiotic could make me feel loopy. I chuckled to myself, "How much loopier could I get?" Apparently a lot. That's why this post, a part of Multitude Monday, is being published on Thursday.
The following is a story about a different medicine. A medicine that was sweet when it was first prescribed and administered and one that remains sweet today.
I don't remember if it was the first week or the second week that we were in Gainesville. It doesn't really matter. We were exhausted and heartbroken.
One day was as dark as the next.
The ICU nurses were so patient with us. They bent rules and looked the other way many, many times so we could be with Ethan. But there were times when they did enforce the "no more than two visitors in the room" rule.
The ICU waiting room became home. It was the closest place we could be to Ethan without being in his room.
Friends from our hometown had sent baskets filled with fruit and a variety of chips, cookies and candies. Ethan's friends, and the parents of his friends, had brought in food of all kinds. I hated for any food to be wasted, so my cousin, Mary Jo, and I laid it all out on the large table at the end of the waiting room.
Whenever anyone came into the room, we invited them to take whatever they might like.
One afternoon Mary Jo and I were the only ones in the waiting room. That was unusual.
Mary Jo was busy straightening up anything she could. Folding blankets, stacking newspapers, rearranging furniture. Anyone who knows Mary Jo would agree that she's a "Heloise on steroids!"
That afternoon, a man wearing a backpack walked into the room. My first impression was that he was homeless. I knew there were many homeless people in Gainesville. Ethan and I had had many discussions about them. On many occasions I had told him that I was proud of his compassion, but that he could not continue to give away his clothes.
The man sat down at the table and began using the hospital phone. When he finished with his phone conversation, he asked us if we knew who the food belonged to. I told him it was ours, and that he was welcome to have all he wanted.
When he made sure that my offer was sincere, he began to look through all of the food. He would pick up an item, look at it, read the back, and if he wanted it, he would put it in his backpack. He decided against several items and put them back on the table. He was very deliberate in making his choices. When he picked up an apple, and turned it around and around to inspect it, Mary Jo quietly made a comment about his deliberateness.
Mary Jo and I have a long history of setting each other off. It never has taken much to send us into an out-of-control laughter spree. Those sprees would only end when tears were streaming down our faces, when we couldn't breathe, or our sides were killing us. Stares, embarrassment, or shame never seemed to control the laughter once it had started.
With Mary Jo's remark about the man's deliberateness, the laughter started. We definitely did not want to make the man feel uncomfortable, or to let our silliness keep him from taking any of the food he wanted. If he had taken all the food on the table, it would have been fine with us.
We were saved by the waiting room phone ringing. We knew there was a good chance it was someone calling to check on Ethan's condition. We were right.
The phone was close to the table where the man was sitting. We once again encouraged him to take whatever food he wanted. He asked us why we were in the ICU waiting room.
I told him that my son was hurt and was in the ICU.
He began telling us about a time when he had been shot in the ********. He told us that he had been dragged into the emergency room of this same hospital, barely alive, and that the doctors and nurses had saved his life. He assured us that this was a good hospital, and that my son couldn't be in a better place.
The word he used to describe where he had been shot was the same word Ethan had always used to describe that particular body part. It wasn't a crude word, but a unique pronunciation of the scientific name. It would have been sufficient for the man to tell us that he had been shot. Telling us where he had been shot was a little too much information.
Or a lot of too much information.
The too much information made the dam break. Mary Jo couldn't hold it in any longer. She walked to the other end of the room, grabbed a pillow and hid her face in it. Her shoulders were bobbing up and down.
His story continued. Once again with a little too much information. I tried hard to keep a straight face. The man had no idea that he had started something that had to run its course. I prayed to keep a straight face.
Watching Mary Jo bury her face into the pillow, and hearing her whimpers coming from the other end of the room, the man asked me if my friend was okay. I assured him that she was. I told him she was just a little upset.
The man got up to leave, and as he walked to the door he stopped, turned around and asked,"What is your son's name?"
"Ethan. His name is Ethan."
The man looked at me and said, "I will pray for Ethan."
I heard something in his voice. I heard the same compassion I had heard in the voices of the doctors, the nurses, the chaplains, and from the voices of the people who worked in the hospital cafeteria.
It was the same compassion I had felt as a hospital worker would walk pass me while I was sitting on the floor in the hall. Noticing the tears falling down my face, they would hand me a new tissue without ever saying a word.
It's funny how a clean tissue can say more than any words ever could.
It was the same compassion I had heard in Ethan's voice, when we had talked about the homeless and about him giving his clothes to them.
I remember wondering if this man, the one with his backpack now filled with food, was an angel.
The man left and I walked to the end of the room, where Mary Jo still had her face buried in the pillow. Little did I know that God had sent some medication for my broken heart, and it was about to take affect.
I tried to scold Mary Jo, but instead I started laughing. I laughed and laughed until I couldn't laugh anymore. Mary Jo and I were trying to talk to each other but we couldn't. All we could do was laugh. Tears were streaming down our faces, but now for a different reason.
I knew it wasn't appropriate. I hadn't forgotten about my baby behind the swinging doors.
I knew we were totally out of control.
But God wasn't.
God was applying His sweet, sweet medicine. He knew I needed a reprieve from the pain, and the despair, even if it was for only a few minutes. God knew that I could never have laughed like that with anyone except Mary Jo. I believe He made sure the waiting room would be empty that day.
Was the man an angel? I don't know. But that day, he was to me.
The phone in the waiting room rang again.
It was my aunt, Mary Jo's mother.
She heard the hysteria in our voices. She thought it meant more bad news. When she realized we were in the ICU waiting room laughing, she said, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."
I was looking through a book today of illustrated Bible verses and saw that verse. The same one from Proverbs that my aunt spoke over the phone to me in December of 2003.
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."
God knew the medicine I needed. He ordered it just for me.
The nurses and doctors behind the doors marked ICU were caring for Ethan, trying to meet every need he had. God was with me in the waiting room, doing the same.
It made no sense. As I look back and remember that day, it still doesn't. I know it happened, just as I've written, but it still doesn't make any sense. I've asked myself how could I have laughed like that with Ethan so hurt.
I'm sure Mary Jo has asked herself the same thing.
Like I said, it makes no sense.
There's lots of things about God that don't make sense. His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy, His patience, and His unfailing love.
His ways are far too wonderful for this mind to understand.
Who would have thought that God would use a picky angel that had been shot, and uncontrollable laughter in an ICU waiting room, to let me know that He saw me and that He cared.
Not me. But, I am sure glad He did.
My Gratitude List
201. God's sweet, sweet medicine
202. His ways I don't understand
203. that God knows exactly what my heart needs
204. permission to be silly
205 angels with backpacks
206. compassion in a voice and in a tissue
207. that Ethan gave his clothes to the homeless
208. prayers from strangers
210. a lifetime of having someone to laugh with
211. God's word spoken over the phone
212. things you can't explain
213. laughing with Ethan
214. hearing the same cousin laugh today
215, laughing with a broken heart
216. another story to share
217. God in the ICU
218. His grace just to do it
219. shrimp boats leaving the bayou
220. a Father with me on the track
221. Ethan's dad that picks him up
222. gifts of Dr. Peppers, fresh tomatoes, and acidophilus
223. calling someone to encourage them and they encourage me
224. being reminded that God is always bigger