Paradigm Shift in the ER

Paradigm shift: “A time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely” (The Cambridge English Dictionary).

I don’t know about you, but God often shifts my paradigm of disability when I least expect it.

It was a Sunday morning. I’d been laid flat with a flu-like virus for four days. I woke up that morning determined to get up and go to church with my husband and son.


By the time I’d finished my shower, dressed, fixed my hair, and put on make-up, I was exhausted.

Climbing into the car felt like a chore. It takes us seven minutes to drive to church. Two minutes into the drive my chest was so tight I could barely breathe. Pressure kept building. Four minutes into the drive it felt as if a sumo wrestler had invaded the car and chose to sit on top of me.

We drove directly to the ER of our little local hospital, just three minutes away.

Because Joel, who has autism, was with us for the weekend, I told Wally to drop me at the ER and go on to church. Why? Because autism and emergency rooms are not an ideal combination! Once I was checked in, they drove off to church. The last thing I saw as they drove away was Joel’s worried face peering out of the car window.

A couple of hours later my my husband and son returned. I was in a small cubicle, a curtain serving as a door. Hooked up to an IV, heart leads, and a blood pressure cuff, I was beginning to feel somewhat better. They’d already drawn blood and taken an EKG. Now it was time to wait. And wait. And wait. Wally and Joel sat down in the two chairs next to the bed.

I explained to Joel about the IV and the blood pressure cuff, which kept squeezing my arm at 10 minute intervals. Wally told me about the church service. Joel sat quietly.

An hour passed before I realized it was 2 pm, and that the guys hadn’t had their lunch yet. I suggested they go get a bite to eat. Wally stood up. “Good idea! I’m starving. What do you say, Joel. Taco Bell or Wendy’s?”

Joel sat up as straight as he could (difficult, considering he has severe kyphosis of the spine), grabbed the seat of his chair with both hands, and stared straight ahead with a look of great determination.


There’s something you have to understand for this story to make much sense. Joel loves to eat. He never turns down the opportunity to go out for a meal. When given a choice, Joel will choose food over just about anything else.

To put it bluntly, his reaction shocked me.

3 pm rolled around. Still waiting for test results. “Joel," I said, "I know you have to be really hungry, sweetie. Why don’t you and dad go get something to eat? You can bring it back here. I’ll be OK. You’ll only be gone a few minutes.”

Again, he grabbed the seat of his chair and stared at the heart monitor above my bed.

I could read the words in his mind, right there in his beautiful blue eyes. You’re going to have to pick up me AND this chair in order to get me out of this room!

4 pm rolled around and we were still waiting for test results. I was feeling much better. Finally, the doctor came in to tell me that nothing alarming had shown up in the blood work or EKG, but that they wanted to keep me overnight to monitor my heart, and to set up a nuclear scan in the morning.

It was time for Joel to go home. And he definitely could not take the ER chair with him!

And so we called Mohamed, the wonderful caregiver with whom Joel lives (and who has been one of his best friends for 14 years). Mohamed worked his magic, as usual.

“Pray for Mom,” Joel said before he left, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Pray for Mom.”

A scripture from the book of John dropped into my mind: There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends (John 15:13).

I thought of all of the prayers for healing I’ve prayed over the years, the tears I’ve cried, the anguished questions I’ve thrown at God.

And now, this love, flowing from Joel to me. This compassion. This concern. These prayers. The gift of giving up his own wants and needs to make sure that I was safe.

Paradigm shift: “A time when the usual and accepted way of doing or thinking about something changes completely.”

Once again, thanks to Joel, my world tilted on its axis.