Almost anyone who has worked in an emergency department in the last 5 or 10 years has seen the phenomenon of  ‘cutting.’  It’s very easy to be frustrated with these patients.  They come to our emergency departments with wounds that are sometimes long and deep, requiring lots of effort to close.  Other times their wounds are very superficial, and seem a waste of our time.  (That’s the bizarre contrast we often face, isn’t it?  Too much work or too little, we’re easily annoyed). 

Often, the ‘cutters’ stare into the distance and seem hesitant to explain their actions.  The majority of the time, they are adamant that they had no desire to kill themselves.  Typically, they say one of two things.  Either they cut themselves ‘so I could feel something,’ or they cut themselves ‘to take away the pain.’

Now, concrete physicians that we are, neither really makes sense to us on first pass.  There would seem to be much more pleasant ways to feel, and causing pain to take away pain is not (apparently) rational.

In the Bible, in 1 Kings 18, there is the great old story of the prophets of Baal, who contested with the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel.  In order to convince their god to ignite the sacrifice on the altar, one of the things that they did was ‘…cut themselves with knives and daggers, according to their ritual, until blood flowed.’

Perhaps, in like fashion, our patients are crying out to someone, anyone, to pay attention to them.  In fact, I think it can be frankly demonic; a painful appeal to a false deity.  Or a way to mar themselves, when they believe that they are internally ugly and worthless.  Maybe it’s even a way of working up to a suicide attempt.  Although I admit I have not searched for data on that possibility, it does make sense that as a person devalues herself, by defacing herself, the idea of self-murder would seem more acceptable; less outlandish or shocking.

But recently, I had an additional perspective.  While listening to a pod-cast by pastor and author John Piper, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  He reports that while speaking to a young woman in the hospital who had cut her own abdomen, he asked why she did it.  She replied:  ‘I like it when they touch me in the emergency room.’  Here’s a link to the transcript.  There’s an audio link at the same site.

Well, she means us.  She means doctors, nurses, techs, anyone who is willing to take the time to touch, talk, listen.  John Piper goes on to remind us that the world is full of persons who are never, ever touched.  At least not in love.  It’s really hard to conceive of it!  And yet, it’s true.

But there’s more.  Listening to a sermon by Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church, I was reminded of the story of Jesus healing a leper. .   What it says always escaped me until Pastor Mark pointed it out.  The story says ‘Jesus touched him.’  Now, leprosy is a disease that humans have known and feared for thousands of years.  Fora  review, see the link below.

Untreated, it still results (as in ancient times), in loss of limbs, painful sores, poor hygiene, pain, isolation and social rejection.  In fact, touching a leper in Jesus’ time would have resulted in ceremonial uncleanliness, and would have required a ritual of cleansing.  Everyone knew it!  But Jesus did it anyway.  Just reached out to the leper and touched him like it was nothing.  Of course, to Jesus it was both something and nothing.  A chance to love, heal and connect.  But not a thing he had any reason to fear.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing, Be clean!” he said.   Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Mark 1: 40-41

There are deep lessons here.  People come to us to be touched. Dirty people, bloody, screaming, angry people.  People who are hostile, people who are handcuffed.  People who are covered in vomit; people who are covered in shame.  People who are dying.

It doesn’t have to start with hugs or  intense prayer sessions.  But we should touch people as we speak to them. I’ve developed a habit, learned somewhere in medical school, of shaking hands with one hand and feeling a pulse with the other.  It allows for an extended touch.  (And sometimes uncovers a low or irregular pulse).

But the point is, regardless of our technology, studies or evidence-based everything, one thing is self-evident.  One thing is demonstrated by the Great Physician, by Jesus who loved and cared more than we can ever love or care in a million lifetimes.  And that thing is the imperative, the essential nature, of simple touch.

So, in our practices, let us emulate the master and touch those who come to us;  not just as a means of diagnosis, but as a vehicle of God’s grace, and as co-heirs of Christ, in whose name we should strive to touch all in love.

It may be that the simple act of loving touch accomplishes more than we ever imagine.  It may also be that we will stand before the throne and be stunned at the eternal consequences of a tiny, temporal act.  Like touch.

God bless you as you go about touching in His name today!


0 0 votes
Article Rating