31 December 2013

Lessons on Caring Until it Hurts

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
                                         ~Mahatma Gandhi

Last week a man came to my gym looking for a new pair of metal forearm crutches.  I asked for his paperwork.  He didn't have anything . . . claimed he had been told by the security guard at the front of the hospital that all he had to do was come down to see the white lady who gives away crutches for free.  I told him he had to first pay for a hospital card then pay for the crutches.  He said he had no money.

Maybe it was because I had already paid for several other patients' care that week . . . or because I had just come from a meeting with the hospital's director discussing the charges that would be implemented on 1 January for all therapy services . . .  or because I don't think giving everything away for free is the solution for poverty in Niger . . . or because I didn't like this guys attitude thinking he could just rock up to our gym and demand that we give him things . . . or because he wasn't satisfied with the wooden crutches we have, he wanted metals ones.  Regardless, he was going to have to follow the rules, like everyone else.

So what's he got to do with Mahatma Gandhi's opinion on Jesus and His followers??

I'll get there.

But first I want to tell you a story about a woman I met today.


A woman in her late 50's was sent to us for an evaluation this morning.  'Bilateral Shoulder Impingement' was written on her referral sheet, but on further investigation I found she had sacroiliac joint dysfunction (that means the joint where her pelvis meets her sacrum has too much laxity) as well as a labral tear (the labrum is the chunk of cartilage in the shoulder that gives the glenoid fossa of the scapula greater surface area so the humerus can articulate with shoulder without limiting it's mobility . . . in other words, it's a chunk of cartilage in the shoulder . . . sorry, sometimes when it comes to anatomy I get giddy and a little carried away) and capsular thickening on both anterior glenohumeral joints.

Basically, she had low back pain and her shoulders always hurt.

I asked if she had any recent trauma . . . or at least trauma that was recent to the time the pain started four years ago.

'I was lifting my mother off the floor.'

For five years my patient was caring for her elderly mother . . . without a wheelchair or walker or hoyer lift.  Last month, her mother died and despite the cessation of lifting, her pain persisted.  

As she worked through a series of stretches and exercises I wanted her to try out at home for the next few weeks, I began to think about what it's like to be a caregiver in Niger.  

I come from a world of convenience . . . my profession revolves around the use of devices that make life ergonomically better . . . I preach and teach the value of assistive equipment!  

But here I was, standing over a woman who knew nothing except that she had to care for another person to such a degree that it resulted in ongoing physical pain.

I've worked with many families in the States where the the topic of 'Care Giver Burden' is discussed.  Loving adult children and devoted spouses who take 'in sickness and in health' quite seriously have been counseled that it's okay to take a break . . . it's necessary to take care of oneself in order to best care for a loved one.  And I believe it . . . without guilt or condemnation.  

But that is in a world where 'rest' is a luxury most can afford.  Here in Niger, a daughter's only resource for caring for her mother is her own physical body.

And I began to ponder what it means to care until it actually hurts.

Because that's what Jesus did.

As history's first recorded mobile clinic, He was tired and drained from teaching and healing, speaking and comforting.  He spent late nights praying on behalf of others . . . empathizing with a heavy heart.  He looked out over the masses coming to be near Him and He was moved.  But then there was the cross . . . is there agony that can compare?

As I thought about the great extremes to which Christ calls His followers . . . to love those we want to hate and forgive those who cause us pain . . . to hold a yard sale with all the contents of our home and give every last penny to the poor . . . to walk along side Him in suffering . . . I thought about what Mahatma Gandhi said, and I wondered how irresistible our Jesus would be if we as the Church cared for others until it actually hurts us.

And then I thought about the man looking for crutches.  

I wonder what it would have said to that man about Jesus if I had reached into my pocket and paid for the crutches myself . . . if I didn't think about 'all the others already' but rather 'well, I've still got enough for one more pair'??  If I didn't think about his motives, but instead Christ's purpose??  If I didn't think about the [good and necessary] policy, but instead about going to the extremity in order to care for others.

Maybe I've just found my New Year's Resolution.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I really like that quote - read it in a book that your Shugaba gave me to read. How great a challenge for to be Christlike! But we can be thankful for the Holy Spirit's work in transforming us to be like Him. Looking forward to the day when His work will be completed! Miss you all!