January 28, 2015 by The Jailhouse Doc
One of my patients is dying tonight. This is the first time I have cared for a patient from before they were even diagnosed with any major illness, attributing vague symptoms to an intermittent episode that surely isn’t a problem in a big, strong healthy man, to helping discover that something was indeed wrong, to finding out something was actually terribly wrong, to now, when he is not going to make it through the night. I see his picture on the medical chart- young, smiling, healthy. Contrasted with the face I said goodbye to as he was escorted out on his last trip to the hospital last week. A soft, hoarse voice emanating from a skinny, bald, sallow and weak body. A man I didn’t recognize anymore.
I am drawn back to questions I had months ago- is this cosmic justice? That he would die this death having been accused of such heinous crimes against the innocent? Or is this a tragedy of injustice, in which he dies alone, chained to a hospital bed, before ever having his day in court to contest his charges? Is this getting what he deserves?
I don’t know. How’s that. I only know that every life is redeemable. That there IS justice, ultimately, and that he will answer for his life before the King, perhaps tonight. My prayer for him as a Christ follower is that he has surrendered himself to Jesus. Lord knows every God-fearing nurse in our outfit has pestered him with pleas to repent! And I am so proud of them for how they have Loved him with their kindness, mercy, compassion, gentleness these months as he’s slipped from health into disrepair. There has been a collective sense of deep sadness for his dying-ness, and a desire for him to find peace. For all the cynicism that tends to run amok in a jail, there has not been an ounce of judgment toward him. We can never know if he’s guilty and he will never get to say. We can only know in our hearts that some stories do not have happy endings. Some stories just don’t resolve. Some stories end in heartache with unanswered questions. Family members will go through therapy over the years, trying to find their own peace, trying to find themselves amidst the wreckage. I have no idea the hurt and trauma he may have caused. Some stories will sit like an anvil descended to the bottom of the ocean in my stomach. Unmovable. Unshakable. I can never “un-know” this person or his story. I can never forget those who have died lonely deaths while incarcerated- sometimes from the consequences of poverty related choices like heroin and violent crimes. Sometimes, as in this case, a sickness that may have been growing hidden for years only to rear its ugly head in such an untimely manner, taking the last of his freedom. He had his last steak, fried chicken, trip to the cinema, swim in the lake, stroll in the park, ice cream cone from the truck with his kids,.. All over a year ago, he just never knew this was going to be the end. And it doesn’t feel right, to me, because he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, right? And yet his charges are his sentence in this case. His last days will all be as a prisoner.
This is a really sad post, but I am really sad tonight. I will probably cry tomorrow when I get the word. Who cries over a criminal? Me I guess. Feels a little twisted but there it is in its raw weirdness. I am not sorry I will miss him. I am not sorry this whole thing has broken my heart. It’s a very strange place to be- if his charges are true- then he is the kind of man I lose sleep over in my venomous anger towards those who commit horrific crimes against the vulnerable. Like Boko Haram Or ISIS. He may as well be one of them, if he actually did what they think he did. But I don’t know him as that person. And I am ok with that. It’s ok for me to be ok with that. My professional role is medical provider, my calling is HEALER, and I cannot heal him of this. The brightest minds in the business cannot heal him of this.
If there were confessions to be made, forgiveness to be asked, and redemption to have been formed, the time has passed now. I hope he has made them. I hope I never lose my sadness over sickness, the dying, and the broken. I hope I stay out of the seat of judgment and stay where I belong- trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus-the ultimate healer, reaching the most unloveable of all, and hoping that each life I interact with senses from me that their life matters, that they are not beyond redemption, that it’s not too late, as it is for this man.