Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck.
That verse came to mind some years ago as I readied for one of those dreaded “little procedures.” I was unfamiliar with this one, but I’d not had time to begin reading the explanatory literature when my name was called. I was given a blue paper gown and told to change into it. When I came back out, clutching the back of the gown, the nurse was putting waterproof pads on the examining table.
“They irrigate as they examine, so I’m putting all these pads down,” she explained. “You’ve had one of these before, haven’t you?”
“Nope—I had no idea.”
I’ve learned that despite my independence, it’s a good idea to have someone with me when I’m seeing a specialist. The friend who accompanied me that Tuesday, bringing her earthy and hearty humor. Standing at my head, she declared, “Let’s sing water songs! Come on. ‘Row row row your boat.’” We moved on to “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Got Any Rivers You Think Are Uncrossable?” Maggie objected, though, to my suggestion of “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.”
“No storms!” she begged, but I sang it anyway. Although I wasn’t standing at the Jordan—a metaphor for death—I was casting a wistful eye, if not “to Canaan’s fair and happy land,” then at least to the land of no tumors.
It was not to be. During the procedure, I could clearly observe the growths. The oncologist recommended surgery. As I was mopping up and changing back into my civilian clothes, I heard laughter coming from the examining room.
They were laughing, but I was feeling decidedly Job-like as I pulled on my jeans and sweater. The passage that came to mind wasn’t Job’s “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him,” or even “I know that my redeemer liveth.” No, I was thinking of that lesser-known verse, “Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?” (Job 7:19)
My friend and the nurse, a no-nonsense woman about my age, later explained the joke to me. The nurse’s stance when her washer, dryer, and hot water heater all failed in two days’ time was to eye her refrigerator and dishwasher and to challenge them, “Bring it on!”
Her first words to me, however, were, “Now don’t you go feeling sorry for yourself.” As we walked down the hall, she reminded me that God cares for the sparrows and for us.
I surmise that she sees many people who, quite reasonably to my mind, succumb to self-pity. That door was closed for me. I was left instead with the joys of friendship, laughter, and song.