Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy)

Chaplain Norris Burkes. Photo by Wade Spees. June 6, 2014.

January is the month fitness evangelists often proclaim: “Lose the weight.” But as a hospice chaplain, I have a little different slant on it. I say, “It’s time to lose the wait.”

I’ve earned my perspective from sitting in a lot of waiting rooms with patients’ families. These long waits have made me into somewhat of a wait expert.

As an expert, I can tell you there are times when one must wait on life, and there are times when one must refuse to wait.

I came to realize this one afternoon in 1992 as I spoke with a family at Houston Northwest Medical Center in Houston, Texas. That’s the day they recounted the life story of their adult daughter who had refused to live her life in a waiting room. Their college coed lived her life with cystic fibrosis, and at that moment, they were adjusting to the idea that she was dying.

CF patients are a special breed. Most of them are a wait-challenged group. That’s because none of them can afford to wait for life. They have to go grab it.

CF causes patients to compact their life plans into fewer than three decades. Every day is a struggle with the cliche, “What would you do if you had only one more day to live?” The question becomes the mantra of their lives.

This particular young woman grappled with that question nearly every day of her 21 years. She’d recently moved out on her own and was successfully tackling a new set of problems. She was going to college, working a job, finding health insurance, building permanent relationships, all the while keeping up with her physical therapy and medications.

But the real reason I was meeting with her family was to guide them in their implementation of her decision to make this day the last one of her life. She wanted to disconnect her breathing apparatus, allow nature to take its course and then donate her organs.

This was a choice her family knew well, because the woman was a well-known evangelist for organ donation. She carried her organ donation card everywhere and urged all her friends to make the same donation plan.

The family explained all of this to the attending doctor, but unfortunately, he held to older definitions of death and life support. He would not allow us to withdraw temporary measures in time for this family to donate the young woman’s organs.

Some might say, “What a pointless ending. How sad.”

Yes, it was sad, but in the end, the family did not remain stuck in the waiting room. They chose to celebrate a young woman who refused to live a delayed life. They rejoiced in a woman brave enough to enjoy each day as if it were her last. And ultimately, her choices were fulfilled many times over by the organ donors she enlisted.

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Hospital waiting rooms are reasonable places for people to gather when faced with few choices about life. But for the most part, God designed us to live outside the waiting room.

Life plans are never implemented in the waiting rooms. They are worked out on the battlefield of life. This girl knew that.

So what are you waiting on? Lose the wait!

Online:

For more about Cystic Fibrosis go to CFF.org.

It is estimated that organ donation cards save 28,000 lives a year. Learn more at www.organdonor.gov.

Contact Norris Burkes at comment@thechaplain.net, PO Box 247 Elk Grove CA 95759 or voicemail 843-608-9715. 

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