I was a twenty-one year-old newly married college kid working at E.W. Sparrow Hospital here in Lansing. The department I worked for was brimming with college students, most of them pre-med at Michigan State University. Because Sparrow is a teaching hospital, these spots were highly prized by my fellow employees who saw them as an opportunity to observe the inner workings of medicine up close.
It didn't take me very long to learn that the magic words that gained one entrance into nearly any situation in the hospital were, "May I observe?" Uttering this incantation would spirit you into nearly any room or procedure at the hospital that didn't require the maintaining of a sterile field.
One dreary night I was "floated" - that is loaned - to a short-staffed Emergency Room. Mostly I just cleaned up other people's messes and made sure the treatment rooms were well stocked. The night dragged on until a critical patient came through the doors. An elderly gentlemen, this guy was in trouble from the minute he rolled in. The paramedics were performing rolling CPR as he was hustled into the trauma room. There, the ER team took over and were soon assisted by the folks from respiratory therapy. Hearing the commotion, I dropped my mop and walked in. I looked straight at the physician running the code. When he caught my gaze I intoned, "May I observe?"
"Absolutely," was his reply, and then with a sweep of his foot he kicked a stepping stool over my way and said, "Stand up on this so you can get a good view."
I stepped up and watched in fascination as the team worked to restore life to the rapidly failing gentleman. What was most striking about this scene to me wasn't the speed with which the team worked, or the technology that was rapidly being deployed to save the gentleman. What struck me was the banter between caregivers. Interspersed with the instructions, questions, and responses of the code team was an amazing assortment of otherwise innocuous repartee.
"Whatta you have in mind for breakfast this morning?"
"I don't know."
"Did the pastry chef make anything good tonight?"
"I saw some pretty amazing looking bear claws."
"That's the last thing I need right now."
"Oatmeal again . . . "
I was staggered by their conversation. A man lay dying. Their hands were working to revive him, and yet their minds had already moved on to their next meal. I wanted to shout, "Hey, this guy is dying! Do something!"
Then, just as suddenly as the code began it was over. With a swift finality, the head physician looked up at the clock and said, "That's it folks; time of death - 5:24 A.M." Everyone stepped back, snapped off their latex gloves, dropped them on the floor and walked out. The two respiratory therapists were discussing the merits of oatmeal versus cold cereals on their way out the door.
I stood there, frozen to my stool, thinking, "There should be more. A man has just died, and there should be bells tolling, or soft music playing or something!" But there wasn't. There was just silence. One moment this man was alive. The next moment he was not.
I've been present at, literally, hundreds of deaths since then. Many of them physical, most of them spiritual.
I'll never forget the first time I saw a man die, but the death I most look forward to is the next one I will see - the next spiritual death that is. Paul wrote:
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country. (Romans 6:3-5, The Message)One moment, a person is dead, the next moment, alive.
When I was baptized, my preacher - a tall gangly guy named Jim - said "Buried with Christ," as he dunked me in the stainless steel baptistery at the First Church of Christ. Then he paused, ever so slightly and, as he lifted me out of the water, "Raised to walk in newness of life."
New life. It is ironic that, in dying we find life. But then that is what Jesus is all about.