In thirty years of ministry I have only missed giving one sermon through illness and that was the result of an intervention by Nurse Donna. Now to be fair to her, Nurse Donna is a tireless volunteer who gives a tremendous gift to our congregation. But when I get sick, Nurse Donna changes. She becomes a robot who won’t listen to reason. For example, yesterday after she had spent much the day at the hospital caring for one of our members. we were on our way to attend a funeral. I have been sick this week and I knew my challenge would be to hide my symptoms. Nurse Donna is a career nurse and it is not easy to cloak one’s infirmities from her skilled eyes.
Hiding the headache was easy, I just didn’t squint. I was careful to sit up straight so I wouldn’t look ill. But, unfortunately, I also had whooping cough that sounded like the choked engine of a 1940’s car. Hiding that wouldn’t be quite so easy. Early in the trip, I let out a round of coughs, followed by a period of sucking for air. Not a good start. Nurse Donna shifts into robot voice, ”Let’s go to EMS and get some medicine. The people at the funeral will understand.” “No,” I insist firmly, “I’ll be fine”
When we get to the funeral I ask if we can sit on the back row just in case I need to cough, which happens almost immediately. I sneak out the back, hack a bit, and then go to a restroom to rub hot water on my throbbing headache. When I return to the back of the church and look at my pew, Nurse Donna is not in her seat. “Oh my God,” I think, “she has come looking.”
I am in the foyer now, crouching like a hunted soul. Out of the corner of my eye I see Nurse Donna roaming down one of the halls like a bounty hunter. My first thought, of course, is to run. I could live out in the woods with the animals. Unfortunately, we came together in the same car- hers. With the sound track to the television show “Cop’s” playing in the back ground of my head, I turn myself into Nurse Donna, who wiggles her finger toward me in the universal teacher signal for “come here.” Like a dog about to go into his carrying crate, I submit snarling and cowling at the same time.
As soon as we sit down in her car, she lifts up her cell phone, and says flatly “Ilene or Jensen?” I know exactly what she means. “Who is going to preach instead of you tomorrow, Ilene Dunn or Robert Jensen? Now we’re talking worst case scenarios. Jensen was out of the question, as he was part of Nurse Donna’s last intervention. The only other time I have missed a sermon for illness Jensen took Nurse Donna’s word over mine. I had no choice but to go with Ilene. She is new enough on our church staff that my evasive maneuvers might work.
I realized it would take all my skills to convince Ilene on the phone while Donna overhears everything I say. I call Ilene telling her that I am going to get medicine and I might need a replacement preaching but I wasn’t sure. I’m thinking then, in the morning, I can say I’m feeling better. It seems a flawless plan, but before long Ilene’s voice has shifted to the same flat robotic tone. She says she also thinks I shouldn’t preach. She uses hurtful words like “stupid” to summarize the excellent reasons I have for stalling. Nurse Donna has invaded her brain as well.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I am lying in bed writing my morning blog. I am plowed with drugs and have new heating pad on my chest. Not to wander off from my point, but the new heating pads aren’t very hot. Back in my day you could heat your chest with one side of the heating pad and fry a wiener on the other side, but I digress.
My point is, I am lying here on a Sunday Morning filled to the gills with medicine. I will send this blog off, turn off my alarm and sleep late for the first time I can remember. And I will miss giving my sermon for the second time in thirty years- a victim of Nurse Donna.