(by Christina Gagnon)
In the midst of the bustle of an acute care unit, there are a handful of patients in every medicine ward that will require the most basic care of all: feeding. Feeding a patient is like no other task in nursing. There is very little skill required, but a lot of assessment, certainly no adrenaline rush, which just about every nurse on a medicine unit thrives on. It is the mundane task of tipping quarter teaspoon after quarter teaspoon of thickened fluids or pureed solids into a helpless mouth or a fighting mouth and watching to make sure he has swallowed, watching for coughing or other signs of aspiration. Sometimes a meal takes ten minutes, other times the better part of an hour is spent spooning nourishment into a patient’s mouth. On a busy unit, this is a huge demand on a nurse’s time. And yet we do it, not just because it’s our job, but also because for many of us there is a supreme sense of satisfaction in having provided care to our patient in the form of nourishment. As I stood at my patient’s bedside for the third day, patiently (or not) spooning thickened milk and unidentifiable pureed meat into his open mouth, my mind wandered, as it often does, and I unconsciously began to hum snatches of tunes. I became cognizant of a specific tune after a few minutes and a dawning realization. Does not our Father stand patiently at our bedsides spooning nutrients into our souls? As newborn babes, He feeds us with the sincere milk of the gospel, strengthening us and growing us until we can stand on our own two feet in maturity and faith. Then, when we are fully grown, we leave our diet of milk behind for the strong meat of maturity. And, He gives us our meat in due season. Yes, we are stronger, we can tolerate strong meat, but we are still dependent. We still wait to receive our daily bread from Him. That is faith. That is maturity. “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comfort flee, Help of the helpless, oh abide with me.” This song always makes me think of the two World Wars because we sang it at every Remembrance Day parade I went to as a teenager. But it struck me differently today. “The darkness deepens.” And perhaps today things seem very dark. The growing number of Covid-19 cases in Canada, the friends who are affected, the lockdown of hospitals, the isolation as a result of social distancing among many other things can cast long shadows. But there have been dark days before. Many in fact. Ebola in Northern Africa in 2014. SARS in 2003. The Spanish Flu in 1918. Smallpox was carried from Europe and decimated the Native American populations during the centuries of exploration. Smallpox and the plagues swept through Europe in the Middle Ages. The plagues swept through the Roman Empire in the early years of the AD calendar. The thing is, despite the darkness of these days, my life is still held in His hand. The only difference between March 23, 2020 and March 23, 2019, is my perception of my life, because today, March 23, 2020, my life seems very fragile, the lives of my friends and family seem tenuous; that silver cord can break at any moment. Suddenly, I am very aware, in a deeper way, of just how delicate life is, how soon it can be snuffed out. But I am also very aware that God has not changed. The God I trusted March 23, 2019 is not less powerful, is not less able to provide the things I need or the health I desire. He is not less in control today than He was before. Only my perception of my size and my power and my control has.
I can’t say I like realizing how very small I am. But I also can’t say I am not thankful for this realization.
Throughout history, there have been many dark days that people have had to pass through. That’s why a prayer for God’s presence in the darkness is such an abiding classic. But what I realized as I stood there providing nourishment to this helpless patient, was that God has not changed. God is still good. God still provides. God is my meat and God is my milk. God still stands at my side providing the nourishment I need to live and thrive. My perception might change, but my God does not. Yes, as the darkness deepens we pray, “Lord, with me abide,” but we pray knowing that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).