Flesh-eating bacteria. Have to cut until it’s gone. Critical condition.
The doctor’s words arrive in my head but jumbled around, almost nonsensical. Down the corridor, my thirty-five-year-old husband lay in intensive care, covered in sweat but shaking with cold. I sank to the chair in the family waiting area. At a new church in a new city, our support network was nascent. I called a friend and then the deacon of the congregation. At 9 p.m., we were allowed into the ICU for ten minutes. I leaned down to kiss his forehead, and his eyes fluttered. But in his delirium, I’m not sure he knew who I was. I held his hand and held back tears as the deacon said the words of Compline.
The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.
Our help is in the Name of the Lord;
The maker of heaven and earth.
I looked up. The words fell out of his mouth. Mumbled but coherent. He began to pray with us.
Almighty God, our heavenly father…
As the prayer ended, the tears flowed freely. The tests showed later that he didn’t have the flesh-eating bacteria – necrotizing fasciitis – but a wicked infection. He still spent two more weeks in the hospital and came home with an IV for another long round of antibiotics. But he was home and, eventually, well.
I met Jesus that night in the liturgy, as it provided words when my husband couldn’t form his own. It gave him structure and form so he could offer prayers of petition, contrition, and thanksgiving when sickness took everything else.
When we comfort the sick, we meet Jesus, and we meet him again when he comforts us right back, embracing the hurting and the worried alike. Thanks be to God.