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Monday, January 28, 2008

The church at its best

This past Sunday, at the 8 o'clock Eucharist, I was setting the table for Holy Eucharist when I noted a commotion. I suddenly realized that something was very wrong with Jerry, our 91 year old faithful parishioner, and left the altar to see what was going on.

Jerry was cold and clammy and unresponsive. There was no facial muscle response to stimuli. His pulse was weak and thready and his breath was shallow.

I immediately called 911. Without my saying a word, members of my staff who were present and the liturgical leadership and ushers snapped right into the informal protocol we had established two weeks ago when we had held a church-sponsored CPR training for staff, Church School faculty and ushers:

Someone went outside to guide the first responders to the sanctuary, someone moved the people in the congregation to the front of the church to make sure there was room for the first responders to work, others provided pastoral care to those who were distressed, two of us continued to closely monitor Jerry's condition, ready to administer CPR if necessary, one person stood ready with the cell phone, another went to the Vestry room to get a pillow for Jerry's head and someone got a coat to fold and place under his legs.

I loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, undid his belt and continued to monitor him closely. Still, he remained unresponsive. His color was getting ashen and he felt cold to the touch. In anticipation of performing CPR, I checked his chest for apacemaker and discovered that he was not breathing.

I checked his pulse again and could no longer detect one. At that point, it was clear he had nine toes out the door, getting ready for the real presence of Jesus on the other side of Eden.

Four of us lifted Jerry from the pew and placed him in the aisle. The jarring had the effect of a 'precordial thump' (those of you who have taken CPR training in the past will know exactly what that is), and soon after he was on the floor, while I had my hand to his sternum, ready to begin CPR, his eyes opened wide and he was back with us. Within seconds the EMTs were there, administering oxygen and rendering him treatment.

The good news is that Jerry is doing well today. The doctors believe he had a mild cardiac episode which may be related to some medication he was taking which led him to an electrolyte imbalance, which, in turn, caused his cardiac episode.

I remain deeply committed to providing yearly CPR training for my staff and congregation. This is the first time this has happened during a church service, but it's not the first time we've saved a life on church property.

We debriefed at staff meeting this morning, and a few questions emerged:

1. Do you have a protocol or guideline or "emergency plan" for your staff/ushers that you might share? Can anyone help me by sharing examples with me? I want to make sure I have covered all the bases.

2. Does your church have a portable defibrillator? Where do you keep it? How much did it cost? What did the training entail? Would you recommend that a church have one in a sanctuary or parish hall?

3. Do you or your staff/ushers/etc. have yearly CPR training? If not, why not? (That's not a statement of judgement. I'm really just curious.)

Say what you want about TEC going to hell in a hand basket or about me being 'unsuitable matter' for ordination. And think what you will about the "evil, slimy, slippery thing that is our mortal flesh" (That's evangelical theologian John Stott talking), but you know what? Not that I want this to happen again anytime soon, but church just doesn't get much better than that.

UPDATE: I just spoke with Jean, Jerry's wife. He was also diagnosed with a 'bleeding ulcer' - considered a side effect of Plavix (those of you with coronary or cholesterol problems will know this drug). Unfortunately, drugs like these are life-saving in and of themselves, but they are not well monitored in the elderly - an entirely different conversation but one just as serious for pastors with a congregation whose members are "of a certain age."

He received two units of blood yesterday, one this morning, and when I left him tonight, they were setting him up for another. The hope is that he will be home sometime late tomorrow afternoon. The doctors told me that he could have died from the complications to his heart. "Nine toes out the door," they said, "was an apt description." Fortunately, there are no long-term affects to his heart, but at age 91, no one can be too sure. Of your kindness and mercy, please keep Jerry and Jean in your prayers.

P.S. Over at HOB/D they are having a wee contest to define what it means to be Christian. Imagine!

So, here's what someone wrote me, after reading the above post about Jerry: "You want your definition of 'Christian'? I got your definition right here:

"A Christian is a person who loves Jesus so much and is so grateful for the gift of a life redeemed that s/he is ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to save a life that God has created."

Isn't that just the BEST? I can't wait to tell Jerry that he inspired such a definition. That ancient, cranky, loyal Republican, cradle Episcopalian will be so very pleased I'll bet he'll smile - even though that would be against his better judgment.


David@Montreal said...

dear Elizabeth+
what a gift of and to the Church you are
and through grace one can always count on you to keep to real

Muthah+ said...

Elizabeth, I am sure that your background has made you more sensitive to such details that I would ever be. Thank you for this story because this is an important piece of what it means to be a Christian. I am emailing this to my wardens and suggesting that we get some training. I have never had CPR training and need it for the good of my congregation.

Iknow we have some nurses in the congregation and it is a good way to get them to use their baptimal ministry in a whole new way.