Illness prompts Lenten reflection

Complete the Circle
By George Evans
A funny thing happened as I started Lent. I was geared to lose substantial weight and started my diet on Monday before Ash Wednesday. Daily Mass after exercise was on the program. Ash Wednesday and Thursday went fine until about 7:30 p.m. when I was overwhelmed with severe stomach pains and related gastro-intestinal problems. I had never had anything like this before. My wife, Carol, called an ambulance and I finally got to the ER at St. Dominic where I lay in the hallway for a while until a treatment room became available.
An IV was finally started (two paramedics had given up because veins seemed to have disappeared due to severe dehydration), merciful morphine was given and finally I went for a CT scan around midnight and they thought I had diverticulitis. By 3 a.m. I reached a room for the rest of a sleepless night. I saw a wonderful hospitalist the next morning and he wasn’t sure of the diagnoses and wanted to watch things. Toward the end of the day he still wasn’t sure and I was still sick and not sure the Lord wasn’t calling me home. He ordered an abdominal sonogram for Saturday morning. That was the trick.
He immediately diagnosed badly infected gall bladder with sepsis and e-coli in the blood stream. I selected a general surgeon from the three on weekend call. He came and agreed wholeheartedly with the internist and got my attention by scheduling surgery for 7:30 a.m. Sunday. I knew they saw something that needed immediate attention. I felt so bad I was pleased with the urgency. I think prayer and desperately clutching the Lord had gotten me to that point.
The surgery went well except the trip to surgery on Sunday morning at 7:30 almost scared me to death because everything was so dark and utterly quiet. I felt like I was going to the morgue and never was so happy to see a surgical nurse and the bright surgical lights on arrival.
The surgical pain upon awakening was very tolerable (laproscopic) and I thanked God again for medical advances and a great surgeon. I still felt terrible otherwise. Sepsis will knock you for a loop. It took another three days in the hospital before I began to feel like a human again. I had eaten nothing but ice chips and a little juice and liquids for six days. After two days I improved enough to go home after a week of hospitalization.
I have now been home a week. I have thought and prayed a lot. I have thanked God, the doctors, health care folks, Father Dan Gallagher and Father Mike O’Brien and other visitors. Even though I hope I am never that sick again, I can honestly say I have had  a positive experience. To be knocked low and down with time to pray and read good commentaries and God stuff is not all bad. To be utterly dependent on God and others brings the Lenten message home with force and reality. To experience the care and concern of health providers and spouse and children is nothing to belittle and helps frame suffering as God may see it. I have never invited suffering and never will but what I experienced I believe will help me in the future to face it again if come it will.
If you have to get sick, Lent is not a bad time for it to happen. The daily scriptures and the wonderful reflections available help improve the closeness with God which the sickness and pain initiate. I share just one example. The Lazarus story is one of my favorites.  The rich man, dressed in purple, and Lazarus, who had lain at his door with his sores, both died.  Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham and the rich man was in torment begging for help. But what had the rich man done for his punishment.
He had not been mean to Lazarus. He had not kicked him or abused him. He knew who he was. He had simply ignored him. He had not been generous as the biblical tradition that Abraham had exemplified and taught and as Lent brings home to us every year.
Does not this parable challenge us directly to respond to the enormous need we see locally and world wide. In his commentary on this gospel in “This Day,” John Klassen, OSB, abbot of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota reflects:
One of the scourges of globalization is the maldistribution of wealth. In 2014 the relief agency Oxfam reported that just one percent of the world’s population now controls nearly half of the planet’s wealth. The study says this tiny slice of humanity controls $110 trillion, or 65  times the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion people. In the U.S., the gap between rich and poor has grown at a faster rate than any other developed country: the top one percent captured 95 percent of post-recession  growth (since 2009), while 90 percent of Americans became poorer.
The numbers are staggering. Abbott Klassen  suggests that sometimes we don’t see the needy people in front of us. Sometimes our mental constructs impair our vision, and we don’t help. Is this not reminiscent of the rich man? Maybe if we all first see the needy person in front of us and start by helping him/her then we begin to address the global situation. Back on my feet and close to God by suffering and prayer, and even having lost a few pounds, I hope to start anew.
(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)