He Is Risen

The first patient I got report on was Tony*, a frequent-flyer here for his third toe amputation in as many months. Even if I didn’t know him from previous hospitalizations, I would’ve known his history: diabetic, noncompliant, former or current IV drug user, chronic non-healing wounds, acute or chronic kidney failure. It’s a pattern. I read through the progress notes stating that osteomyelitis, bone infection, had spread to the metatarsal bones, which would mean he’d be losing half his foot in surgery. I rolled my eyes and shook my head because I knew Tony was, despite having been through this before, still very much noncompliant, and most likely would end up back at the hospital a few months down the road for a BKA, below the knee amputation. As I said, it’s a pattern.

As a nurse, patients like Tony are a real challenge, not because they’re difficult (although individuals may vary), but because I’m fighting a losing battle. I take care of them while they’re admitted, work hard to treat their illness, to educate them, to get them community resources, to help them help themselves by taking their meds, following-up with the physicians, and making lifestyle changes, only to see them return again and again, worse each time, because they were noncompliant. I don’t want to be jaded with Tony, but it’s hard not to.

Later in the day, as I’m prepping Tony’s IV line to hang the first of many antibiotics he’ll get for a couple weeks, I hear him singing to himself, his eyes closed as he tries to deal with the pain in his foot. Although I’ve given him pain meds, a history of IV drug use means that his tolerance to opiods is far higher than most people, and nothing I can give him will likely touch his pain. To deal with it, he watches TV, listens to music on his smartphone, and now sings to himself what I come to realize is a Christian song.

Christ breaks all chains,
Christ breaks all chains,
Christ breaks all chains,
And He gives me liberty.

It’s a simple song, almost like a meditation mantra. It’s not a song I know (though that’s not saying much since I know very few hymns), it may even be something he made up, but it speaks to his faith and it seems to help him.

Who can live without Christ,
Who can live without Christ,
Who can live without Christ,
He who died for all my sins.

All my jadedness melts away instantly, and I look at Tony not as a guy with a history and a terrible disease, but as a fellow brother in Christ, a sinner who knows that his only help is God’s grace. I see him as a man carrying his cross the best way he can, making mistakes and falling down, with no choice but to get up and keep walking with this huge burden on his back, calling on God to help him with his load. And really, isn’t that me as well? Isn’t that all of us?

Today is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, His triumph over the grave. As Christians we tend to talk a lot about Jesus’ crucifixion and how his death atoned for all the sins of humankind. It’s not an act of the past, but an act of atonement that redeems us even to this day, even my own sins here and now. Because Jesus took our place at the cross, all of Tony’s sins are forgiven by God Almighty, even the ones he keeps coming back to because he is a fallible human. God is never jaded with Tony, or with me when I’m jaded with Tony or others like him.

But as important as that forgiveness attained for us at the cross is, it’s the empty tomb that carries that victorious message through the ages and lets us still today enjoy God’s grace. Had Jesus died at the cross and stayed dead, his would’ve been one amazing story, but it would’ve been one of many. It’s the triumph over death, His resurrection, that shows us that the forgiveness bought at the cross is real, that His message is Truth.

Had Christ, that once was slain,
Ne’er burst His three day prison,
Our faith had been in vain;
But now hath Christ arisen
– This Joyful Eastertide (hymn)

Without the resurrection, we would not be having this conversation, but because He is Risen, two sinners like Tony and myself, over two thousand years later, can still claim God’s grace knowing that our sins, whichever they are, have been forgiven.

On this Easter Sunday, as I proclaim the resurrection of my Lord Jesus, I think of all this and I ask God to help me melt the jadedness away, to help me see Tony and every single patient the same way He sees them, to follow Jesus’ example as healer, and to remember that we are all His children.

Happy Easter.

Photo: He Is Risen in Concrete by Good Book Reader, CC BY-SA 2.0.

* Because I am a nurse and I have to abide by HIPAA Federal privacy laws, I need to make clear that Tony isn’t a real patient, but an amalgamation of many patients I’ve had over four years of nursing, all fitting the same pattern. And although Tony’s story is cobbled together from various patients, the part of him singing his pain away did happen as described with a patient.