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Gangrenous talk

Gangrenous talk

Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)

Psalm 34 (Evening)

Genesis 24:50-67

2 Timothy 2:14-21

Mark 10:13-22

If you were to line up a hundred surgical pathologists and ask them, “What’s your least favorite surgical specimen?” I’d put money on the overwhelming majority saying, “Amputations.” (The rest would probably say, “Colectomies.”)

Unlike most specimens, which can be plopped in a jar or bucket of formalin for fixation, and be handled neatly and cleanly, amputated feet and legs show up unfixed, in the ominous red biohazard bag, in all their gangrenous glory. They’re smelly, they’re messy, and they’re unwieldy, requiring exploration and dissection, to extract the bits one wants to submit for microscopic review. More importantly, when I get an amputation specimen, I can’t help but feel grief for the patient, because that leg on my gross room table represents an irreversible point in his or her peripheral vascular disease.

Many of the amputations I receive in my practice are the result of diabetes, when diabetic neuropathy makes patients unable to sense pain in their feet; in the winter, the root cause that led to their amputation is often because the patient puts his or her feet near a space heater to warm them. The neuropathy prevents them from realizing they’re actually burning their feet rather than warming them, and they can suffer horrible burns. The patient is ashamed and embarrassed, and tries to treat the burn with home remedies to no avail. The leg becomes gangrenous, and the patient can retreat into an amazing denial that prevents even the ability to smell the gangrenous foot. By the time that patient presents to the emergency room because of the pain (or the stench), it’s too late, and amputation is the only thing between the patient and death by sepsis. It’s tragic, it’s forever life-altering for that person, and there were so many points in the story where better choices could have been made.

With that in my work-related mind on a daily basis, it’s no surprise our Epistle caught my attention today, in its discussion of “wrangling with words;” especially the phrase, “…and their talk will spread like gangrene.” I guess you could say I have an inside track on what it’s like to deal with someone else’s gangrene; it calls to mind my own festering sores and how I might be in denial. It’s why, for the most part, I’ve cut down my complaining on social media quite a bit, and have tried to avoid demonizing almost entirely; but, human nature being what it is, now and then I’ll slip over the edge from anger, frustration, or that urge to toss a bit of clever snark in the mix. When I’ve transgressed, I have a special kind of regret about it, knowing once that nugget’s been released, I’ve inserted a nidus for possible gangrene into the milieu of the social media world, and have no control as to how it spreads.

Of course, the author of 2 Timothy (historically attributed to Paul, but now believed to be an unknown first century Christian) wouldn’t even have dreamed of the concept of social media. He did, however, have an inside track of how family gossip, hallway gossip, marketplace gossip, and, yes, church gossip can fracture the Body of Christ. In fact, church gossip, and the mean-spiritedness attributed to it, is, unfortunately, a prime reason why that generation Elizabeth Drescher calls “the religious Nones” figures a private spirituality is preferable to a community one.

Electronic media and social networking is a two-edged sword. It’s marvelous how it has enabled us to connect nationwide–even worldwide–to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to discuss items of interest in our church and in the world on a wider platform. When we do it right, those folks out on the spiritual periphery have a safe place to explore their own spirituality and wrestle with the idea of inching just a tad bit closer to life in a community of believers. When we do it wrong, it’s displayed for all the world to see as a floridly violaceous, putrefying, gangrenous limb in dire need of amputating.

What can each of us do to debride and dress the sores created “in the name of the church” before they potentially progress to a horrifying gangrenous state? Where might we be suffering neuropathy, unaware of how our own injuries put us at risk of being the fully present person God calls us to be?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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