By Norris Burkes May 1 2020
Recently returned from Honduras, I feel a headache developing. A quick thermometer check prompts a call to my doctor’s COVID-19 advice line.
I press all the options in the phone tree until a nurse finally answers.
When I report my fever of 100.3, her triage questions become more focused.
“No, I don’t have a cough,” I say. “Just a slight headache.”
More questions. More answers.
“No, I’m not nauseated.”
She records my answers on a clicking keyboard while multitasking her interrogatives about travel and exposure.
“Well, I’ve been in Honduras where I was helping the Chispa Project establish elementary-school libraries.” See video here.. chispa-project-maradiaga.mp4
“Yes ma’am, I find it very rewarding.”
I downplay the danger as being only a half-dozen cases when I left last month, so “no exposure that I know of,” I add.
She mumbles something, so I give her a “Pardon me?” followed by “Yes, I suppose I am calm.”
“Why?” she asks.
“Well, maybe it’s from my years working as a chaplain, but mostly I’m calm because I am starting to think that my thermometer might be broken.”
Her “uh-huh” sound is the same one I use when I hear patients in deep denial.
She grants me a moment to try my thermometer again and I soon report 102.6.
My face flushes with heat, melting away my calm.
I start a text to my best friend and hospital chaplain, Roger Williams. I want to tell him that I’m dying, when suddenly, my thermometer screeches with discordant beeps.
I wonder aloud about its reliability.
I hear the nurse’s incredulous response.
“Really? Thermometers can malfunction when the batteries are dying?
I try taking another reading, hoping that it’s the battery’s moment to die rather than mine.
A few minutes later I tell her it’s plummeted to 86.6. It’s a “meer-i-cle” I tell her in my best impression of a televangelist.
The nurse agrees, not entirely able to suppress her chuckles.
My search for help from a broken thermometer tells me a few things: I am scared. I am anxious for answers. I am worried about my friends and family, my pregnant daughter.
The false reading reminds me of the misinformation we are ingesting from various sources.
Facebook friends endorse Sweden’s effort to rush to herd immunity. A politician speculates aloud on the effectiveness of heat therapy or injecting disinfectant. And a few pastors claim either God’s protection over them or god’s judgment over you. My lowercase “g” is intentional because only a lowercase god would hurt his people.
So where is the capital-G God?
God is in the waiting room with us. He waits while we wait. He hurts while we hurt. He grieves while we grieve. He offers clarity to the caregivers and comfort to the dying.
And in that time, he sustains us, he uplifts us. He cries with us and sometimes he helps us to laugh.
Gratefully, as my call with the nurse concludes, we share a laugh at the scared, hypochondriac chaplain.
“Yes, I can take two Tylenol for my headache and, what else did you say?”
“Yes ma’am, I’ll buy a new thermometer and call you in the morning.”
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