It is a shame that we often do not learn how to do something until we need to know how to do it. Putting out a kitchen fire isn’t best dealt with using Google while flames and smoke engulf your home. Wouldn’t it be great if you could be prepared in advance to handle difficult situations? People used to be prepared for many circumstances when mothers and fathers passed their wisdom on to their children. That was before the advent of “experts.” Everyday people knew how to deal with common household annoyances such as ant infestations, emergencies like fires, and not as common medical issues like shortness of breath. Many laypersons were able to assist women in labor precisely because there often were not “professionals” to contact in a timely fashion. Yet, today we are conditioned to believe that in times of need there will always be an expert available to rescue us. Sadly, this is not often the case, as disasters like Katrina have taught us
When my mother-in-law had intense periods of shortness of breath due to congestive heart failure, I called her medical group for some advice and all they would say was to call 911. I knew she needed assistance, but I knew 911 was not the answer. I was interested in getting some counsel how to make her more comfortable and less anxious, and I knew a trip to the ER was not necessary. Thankfully, my dad (a retired physician) was at home 3000 miles away. He told me to get her into a rocking chair, as that position would lessen her struggle.
Recently I was visiting a friend who was on her deathbed. I wanted to see if I could do anything to help her husband, who was shouldering most of the work in caring for her. I was impressed by his precision in handling her oxygen, changing her bedding, and dealing with a myriad of other tasks. I joked that before long he would be able to get his nursing degree. He smiled and told me how glad he was for his military training as a medical corpsman. Routine tasks like changing the linens of a bedridden patient were tucked away in his mind.
Too few people have the training to handle such assignments. What if church congregations, homeschooling families, or Bible study groups gave opportunities for members to share their expertise with each other so that when service opportunities arose, many were able to lend a helping hand. There would be less reliance on experts and we would be able to bear each other's burdens in a personal, God-honoring way.
So, here’s my idea: begin to educate your family and friends how to deal with illness and make patients more comfortable. If you don’t know how, find those who do. Surely, there are nurses and doctors in most congregations who would be happy to give instruction. More importantly, if you possess these skills, have regular teaching times where you can demonstrate them to others. As medical care becomes more and more bureaucratic, our care for our brothers and sisters will provide an opportunity for those outside the faith to note, “See how they love one another.”