By Norris Burkes June 2 2024

I’m still on a Baltic Sea cruise this week with Holland America. It’s been good sailing, but I carry motion sickness medication just in case.

I wonder if that medication would have helped me some years ago when I went to my doctor hoping for a simple steroid shot for the bursitis in my shoulder.

(Stop me if I’ve told you this story before because I think I may have.)

As the nurse smeared the injection site with disinfectant and placed a surgical drape over my shoulder, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a plain old shot.

To mask my anxiety, I started cracking jokes.

“Will this steroid buff me up and help me play amazing baseball?” I asked.

The doctor seemed unamused as she began reciting the list of things that could possibly go wrong. It was simple things such as nerve damage, infections and twitching.

“Don’t worry,” she said as I eyed the door, “we’ve never had a problem.”

Easy for her to say. She was on the giving end of the 3-inch needle.

“Do you mind if I sing a hymn?” I asked.

“No, go right ahead,” she said.

I began to hum, “Shall We Gather at the River?” but her glare suggested that I change that tune.

A few moments later, as she began the deep injection, I had a news flash. To be more precise, a hot flash.

“Simple” quickly became complicated. “I think I’m going to faint,” I said. It felt like severe motion sickness.

“Lie down,” the doctor advised, “and don’t forget to breathe.”

Breathing wasn’t my problem at that moment; it was my hearing that felt impaired. I’ve always heard that hearing was the last thing to go before you die.

Then came a muffled question from the nursing assistant. “Do you feel your heart beating faster?”

“I don’t think so,” I whined as I felt her offering her hand. I’d always heard that in a near-death experience, someone will take your hand and walk you through a tunnel toward the light.

“Your pulse is slowing a bit, but don’t worry,” the doctor reported, “I think you’re having a vagal response.”

“What’s a vagal response?” I asked.

I didn’t hear an immediate answer, so I persisted.

“Is that some kind of anaphylactic shock?”

I wanted her to know I knew some medical lingo. Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening condition where blood pressure becomes too low to sustain life.

I wondered if it might be the kind of thing that often precipitates near-death experiences.

“Lord,” I silently prayed, “if this is going to be a near-death deal, please send me back before my column deadline.”

I was imagining the headline: “Chaplain Reports Existence of God After Near-death Experience.”

It was definitely Pulitzer-Prize stuff; but as I thought about it, I wasn’t sure I was ready for an exclusive with the Holy. So, I nodded to the doctor and pronounced, “We’re done here.”

Nevertheless, I did learn a few things.

First, I learned that sometimes the best evidence we have of God’s existence is the warm hand of another. Thankfully, this means that God will always have a pulse, even when I don’t.

Second, I think maybe sometimes we need to allow God to find us through the kindness of others. I was looking for God down that tunnel and, while I didn’t see God, I did see someone who showed compassion.

In other words, God showed up and she was wearing scrubs.

The third thing I learned is the definition of a “vagal response.”

“A vagal response,” my doctor explained as she called me back from the proverbial tunnel of white light, “is pretty much like fainting.”

“We’ll have to try this next week. I’ll get you a prescription for Xanax for your anxiety.”

Wow. I guess searching for faith isn’t for the faint of heart.

Headline: “Chaplain faints again, misses deadline.”


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