“Colin, can you hear me?”
“I sensed a twitch there a minute ago. Did you fall asleep?”
Well, let’s see, I’ve been lying on my back under a warm blanket, with a comfy pillow under my knees, for about 30 minutes, with no obligation at this point to do anything else, and listening to a rhythmic humming sound that Jungian psychologists would probably say brought back subconscious memories of the ebb and flow of blood I listened to in my mother’s womb for a few months over half a century ago.
Is the pope Catholic? Of course I’d fallen asleep!
“Please try not to fall asleep. I thought that image might have been blurry because you twitched, but it was okay. Try to stay awake for the next two images”.
I focused on keeping my eyes open for the next ten minutes before being released from my soporific surroundings, having my cannula removed, discarding the flimsy hospital gown (do you feel more exposed with the opening at the front knowing what people can see or the opening at the back wondering what they can see?), getting dressed, waiting to receive some big, plastic, black and grey images to show the urologist, then negotiating the hospital corridor maze to find the exit and pay enough money to keep the MRI machine running as well as receptionist, nurse and radiographer employed for a couple of hours each. At least one of those four is costing the hospital a bomb.
The last time I fell asleep with a plastic moulded roof as close over my head as the top of the MRI machine was in a capsule hotel in Tokyo – the sort of place you stay when you’ve missed the last train home and need cheap accommodation for half a dozen hours. Each capsule is a moulded shell about 80cmx 80cm x 1.8m that you crawl into from the end. Like the inside of the MRI machine, it too felt a bit like a coffin. Particularly when the earthquake struck. I’ve experienced earthquakes a number of times—they always make you feel utterly helpless and small. But when the building starts to shake and you’re in a crawl space made to fit your body pretty snugly, you can’t help feeling that maybe you’ve been prepackaged for your imminent demise.
At least on the MRI bed I had one of those emergency call bells in my right hand in case I felt panicky. But as I worked on staying awake, that bell got me thinking about what I’d heard about being “saved by the bell.”
The expression was first seen in a newspaper article about a boxing match in 1893, when a boxer “on the ropes” was given a temporary reprieve by the bell signalling the end of a round. But the other theory is that “saved by the bell” comes from the safety coffin, first patented in 1868. The design left the coffin resident with a call bell, just in case they’d mistakenly been buried alive. If a person came to from a comatose state and realised they’d been buried after being inadvertently pronounced dead, they could pull the bell rope and their relatives and friends who hopefully were still grieving graveside would hear the tinkle of life, have their mourning turned to joy, and raise the person from their grave. Depending, of course, on how good relationships were between the deceased and the graveside bereaved. Right when you pulled on your emergency bell rope would not be a good time to discover that your chief mourner, wealthy old Uncle Ted, about whom you’d frequently verbalized your wish for his early death in anticipation of receiving a share of his inheritance, wasn’t really deaf, but all these years had been pretending not to hear when it suited him.
Falling asleep is not the same as dying, of course. Having an MRI scan on your prostate is not the same as a death sentence. Being released from mistaken burial is not the same as being resurrected from the dead. And contemplating death—inevitable for each of us—with no hope of life beyond death is different from facing death with hope.
Facing death with confidence that it’s as temporary as my time in the MRI machine, rather than the permanent end of everything you hold dear, makes a difference. For those who hold the hope of life beyond death, death holds no more fear than an MRI scan. I entered my first ever MRI experience with confidence I would come out the other side. I trusted completely the medical staff to get me through—I really had no other option. I entrusted everything I had taken into the hospital to the nurse and entered the MRI room sure I would be coming out. I accepted that the staff were doing all they did for my good, and that they knew what they were doing. I trusted that if I called for help they would respond.
I’m trusting God, the giver and sustainer of life, to bring me out the other side of death, whenever it comes. I’m trusting him completely to get me through—there really is no other option for meeting death. That means entrusting to God everything I have with me in this world. It means accepting that the Creator of the universe knows what he is doing and works all things for the good of those who entrust themselves to him. It means trusting that he is not Uncle Ted with selective hearing loss, but the God who responds to those who call out in need. That’s good for anyone to bear in mind when health concerns emerge, and even better for each of us to take on board before facing the certainty of death sooner or later.