CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter…
Dr. Vucescu’s triage nurse called yesterday. Twice. Once for me and once for Helen. I’m diabetic, and I have a cold. Cold meds can affect blood sugar, so Helen had called the doctor’s office to see what I should take. It was the triage nurse who returned the call with the necessary information. Later, she called with information about what Helen should do about her dry throat. The triage nurse! I felt like I was living in an episode of M*A*S*H.
We sort of live in the 4077 M*A*S*H unit anyway. Each night at supper time we watch two or three episodes of that epic TV show, where the triage nurse, with a lot of help from Hawkeye and Trapper John and BJ, would dash from patient to patient, just in from the battlefront on a helicopter or truck, to see who needed help first and most.
Triage is the first level of care. If the triage nurse can take care of it, she does. If it is more than she is prepared to handle, she asks the doctor and gets back to you. The next step after that is the doctor herself.
I had no idea our doctor has a triage nurse. I know she has other nurses, the kind who stick you with needles. She also has a pharmacist and a phlebotomist and an x-ray technician right there in her office. It’s very efficient.
My doctor when I was a kid, Old Doc Ropp, as distinct from his son, Young Doc Ropp, had none of that stuff. He sat in an old swivel chair in his office, which was the room off his parlor, and asked you what was wrong with you. You told him that your nose was running or you had female troubles or your back hurt, and he would reach into a drawer of his desk and shake some pills into a little white envelope and hand it to you and charge you fifty cents, less if you looked like you didn’t have that much. Old Doc Ropp’s system was even more efficient than Dr. Vucescu’s. No need for a triage nurse. Old Doc Ropp was the whole shebang, from triage to coffin.
M*A*S*H was a very Christian show, despite Hawkeye’s, and most everybody else’s, lustfulness, and despite Father Mulcahy’s genial ineptitude. It was about inclusion, getting everybody well. The point of triage was not to decide who got left out, but who needed help the most. Even if the wounded patient was one of the enemy, he would go to the OR first, if that’s what the triage nurse saw as necessary. Even if they had to work all night, though, they would eventually get around to everyone.
I think of the church as the triage nurse of society, because Jesus says we are to help first those who need it most. In our society, though, those who need the help least get to go first, because Congress is the reverse-triage nurse. The church needs to do triage a whole lot better.
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I stopped writing this column for a while, for several reasons. It wasn’t until I had quit, though, that I knew this reason: I did not want to be responsible for wasting your time. If I write for others, I have to think about whether it’s worthwhile for you to read. If I write only for myself, it’s caveat emptor. If you choose to read something I have written, but I have not advertised it, not asked you to read it, and it’s poorly constructed navel-gazing drivel, well, it’s your own fault. Still, I apologize if you have to ask yourself, “Why did I waste time reading