Friday, January 6, 2012

Want A Job?

I first met AnnaMarie when she walked into the ICU room, two days ago.

My friend has been in intensive care now for so many days, I’ve lost track of the number, but certainly it’s been most of last month, and this month to date. She’s battled one infection or organ failure or bleeding or mystery problem after another, and has been successful in knocking out some of those problems entirely, major battle victories --- but the war remains in doubt. It’s as if the guns of the enemy have gone silent, and you want to cheer out loud, but then you look around and see all your wounded and dying, and see that you have very little ammunition left, and you realize that if the enemy does not give up now, all your victories-to-date may have been for nothing. It was into this type of tired, worn, scarred and scared battlefield that AnnaMarie walked --- with a big smile on her face.

AnnaMarie is a physical therapist. During my friend’s many days of battle, her body (and mind) was so totally engaged in the fight that distractions such as physical therapy were simply not possible. If nothing else, the many types of pains she endured would preclude the effort. But two days ago AnnaMarie entered the room and announced that “Today we are going to do some exercises to help make you stronger!” Not surprisingly my friend looked at her as if she were somewhat insane, and with a strength no one thought this wounded soldier had, she emphatically shook her head from side to side. No!!! The tubes from her mouth and nose shook (and probably those from other orifices as well). This battle veteran was not in for any “fun” today. But she hadn’t met AnnaMarie before that day either.

With her energy resources so totally drained that it was a struggle to breathe, even with the respirator’s help, I tended to agree with my friend that she was in no condition to exercise, but AnnaMarie persisted. “The only way you will get all those tubes out is to make your body stronger --- everywhere. You need to get strong enough to breathe, to swallow, to eat, and then to walk. It’s going to take work, but you’ve got to start.” Certainly AnnaMarie’s logic made sense, and so I took a whiteboard and wrote out some supporting words to my friend. After reading them, however, the same head shaking occurred --- although perhaps a bit less vehement. We persisted, stressing the need to take steps to get out of here. AnnaMarie said that if she felt any pains, pain medicines would be provided, and she wouldn’t work too hard this first day, but we MUST start. Again the shaking of the head. Then I wrote on the board: “Look, if she hurts you, I’ll punch her out. Let’s try it anyway.” That got a smile, and shortly afterward a nod to proceed. Little did she know what she was agreeing to.

AnnaMarie said: “Well, we can’t really exercise well with you lying there, so you’ll have to sit up.” Sit up? She could barely raise her head or arm; that seemed out of the question, but as AnnaMarie explained, laughing, well the bed will do most of the work. And then with some soft whirrs, the bed transformed into a chair-like position. My friend looked very distressed at assuming the posture she had not been in for a month or more, but when questioned admitted she was not in pain, but only something we could describe as “uncomfortable” for her to nod to. So while in the bed-chair, leg lifts and arm lifts were slowly done, up and down, side to side, push out and pull in, exercising long unused muscles. And perhaps breathing a bit harder, and exercising those muscles, too. At the end of the routine my friend raised her legs again, wanting more. And when she was again laid supine in the bed, she began a routine of lifting and pulling her arms herself. Success!

Yesterday, AnnaMarie came in all smiles again. Ready? This time her question was answered with a quick nod. But there was another surprise waiting as AnnaMarie said: “Sitting up was good, but we need to get you out of that bed.” My friend looked at me and, without being able to say it, had a facial expression which seemed to say: “Is this lady nuts?” But with the help of a ceiling hoist, my friend did sit in a wheelchair yesterday, and performed even more strenuous exercises, some self-initiated. And with a little help from some of my goofier written comments, smiled often through the work. When the half hour routine was over, she motioned she wished to remain in the chair, and repeated all the exercises for another 45 minutes. Today she was put into the chair again, and would be spending an even longer time in the chair. AnnaMarie was enthusiastic about how my friend exceeded her (and all the doctors’) expectations. And my friend’s daughter cried with happiness.

Next week my friend is (finally) supposed to get the hated respirator tube out of her mouth, to be replaced by a tracheotomy. Weeks of strengthening lie ahead, along with huge numbers of risks. She may never leave the hospital alive; the war may yet be lost. But today she was happily exercising, and fighting. I wrote some notes to her about how her and God and I are fighting here, and she nodded. I think she realizes that as long as we have life, we have to fight to live it well.

I think a couple of days ago my friend had won a number of battles, but attempting to cheer her up over the victories brought little signs of happiness. She seemed to worry that more of the same battles were coming, and she had no more strength left to fight. But a cheerful woman named AnnaMarie changed the ground rules for the battle; she helped rally my friend to get up and fight on, when she felt she had no fight left. One person, dedicated to making a difference, renewed my friends fight for life, and enjoyment with life. One person.

If you have read this far, you probably forgot the title of this blog posting: “Want a Job?” No, AnnaMarie isn’t quitting, but I had to tell her story to explain where the title came from. From one point of view, AnnaMarie didn’t do anything remarkable, with a little training (okay, perhaps a LOT of training) you or I could do the same. And any idiot could write the few encouraging funny words to break the frozen ice of a dark mood, as I did. But not anyone does. It takes someone to get out and decide to do it, to make it happen. Living around the ICU these weeks has made me realize how many people there are who do not have a cheerleader for them, someone who will take the time to encourage them to not give up, and to encourage them to think about God, in their plight --- and in His. In short, what many people in illness or depression need is someone to love them, to show them that someone thinks them important enough that they will spend some time with them.

If you ARE looking for a job, I hope you saw the point I was trying to make, that there are many jobs waiting to be done, just perhaps not the ones you are looking for. This afternoon a friend called me and we talked about what I and my very sick friend have been going through. The caller said to me: “Who would have guessed, you with all your business and analytical talents would be called by God to be a comforter to His sick children.” Who would have guessed, indeed. I certainly never foresaw this in my career path. But can you see it in yours? Circumstances forced me to choose early retirement, and I found a new career helping others (including my own mother). If you are in your fifties or sixties and not content to retire, but are mailing out tons of resumes (and attending a few interviews) with little success, perhaps you need to be open to a different job.

You may be mailing out resumes in hopes that someone will call and say: “I want you.” Your desire for this sign of being wanted, is just a form of your wanting love. That’s what love is, recognizing the value of someone. Jesus gave out lots of love to others, and then got lots of love in return. There are a billion people in this world today who profess to love Him, and it started with His love of some hundreds. Don’t you see, that to be loved you have to GIVE love first. You want a job? Well, take a job first. Fill one of the many positions available for people who want to care for the old and the ill, the least of His children. Give yourself this job, and perhaps other offers will pour in --- God does reward His children.

But then again, once you do this job, perhaps you might want no other. I have had a radical career path change, and the pay isn’t as rewarding in the last one, at least not monetarily. But if you are unemployed and sitting home doing nothing, you aren’t exactly raking in the dough anyway. There are lots of openings for jobs like the one I am engaged in, and perhaps I am taking the pay “in-kind” for now, in the smiles and hugs and thank you’s. But perhaps this is exactly the job I needed to get the ultimate pay, a major “deferred benefit” payment.

There are openings for this sort of work, you know. Want a Job? REALLY want a job?

I gave AnnaMarie a little prayer card when I saw her this morning. It was the prayer of St. Francis, you know, the one which starts out: “Make me an instrument of Your peace.” I told AnnaMarie that I thought of her when I said the prayer this morning. All the things I prayed which I might do, “bring faith where once there was doubt, hope for despair, light where there was darkness, and joy to replace sadness,” I realized she was doing. I prayed to be an instrument of His peace, and today I saw one of His instruments in front of me.

There are more openings.


  1. My pleasure, Jordan ---- or perhaps God's. Sometimes He opens my eyes to the real truth of things, and not just what I believe is the truth.