Do Not Resuscitate

Last week I watched a woman die. I am a hospital chaplain, so it is not uncommon for me to witness people transition from this life to the next. What made this experience stand out was that she had signed a “do not resuscitate” order, or a DNR. When someone signs a DNR, hospital staff are prohibited from taking life-saving measures such as administering CPR. 

I was nearby when the patient unexpectedly declined. I heard the nurse yell out and I followed the doctor into the room. As all of the surrounding nurses rushed into the room like a river, ready to swiftly carry this patient to safety and keep her in the land of the living, they hit a concrete wall, a dam; the DNR. So they stood by. They shouted her name and nudged her. One nurse asked if there were any interventions they could use without violating the DNR. “No,” the doctor responded, “we will obey her wishes.” And that is what we did. Nothing.

The frenetic energy from the medical staff made the room feel pregnant. It felt as if this dam would burst at any moment and they would all spring into action. That moment never came. The dam held. One nurse clutched the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) she carried into the room. Her knuckles were white and tears streamed down her face. Another nurse held the hand of the patient as he continued to say her name as though she might finally hear him and respond. Three times he held her mouth closed with his other hand, straightened her hair, and let his tears fall. The doctor listened to her heart and checked the clock over and over. I looked at every single one of them and pulled them into my heart – where God is – where they could find comfort and the patient could find rest.

There is much to mourn these days. Our society is bending and we hear the snapping like that of a sapling and it feels like it may break at any moment. “I hate this damn virus,” was the words of one of those nurses, “her children and grandchildren should have been in there. Not us.” She is right. Our safety precautions do not allow for visitors because the spread of COVID has reached unimaginable levels and that means our patients are without their families. The loneliness, the fear, the absolute horror of this moment is palpable and wretched. 

There is so much to mourn. 

On this, the First Sunday of Advent, I invite you to take note of the injustice in our world. Look right at it. Today, as best you can manage, let yourself hold the horror of this moment. Don’t give in to the temptation to numb yourself with platitudes or ease the truth by diminishing the suffering we are collectively feeling. Don’t chase away your own grief by telling yourself how much worse it could be. Instead, look this devil in the eyes. We are facing a world where 1.45 million people have died of COVID since it began this year. 266k of those people have died in this country alone, and this nightmare is far from over. 

Systemic racism has made it the case that Black and Brown people are disproportionately affected by this disease. The unchecked violence of our country’s law enforcement against Black people has reached a boiling point and still, police officers are inciting riots all over the country as they murder Black people while 70 million Trump followers wave their “back the blue” flags and chant “all lives matter” as if they understand the words coming out of their mouths. Most of these people call themselves Christians. That fact keeps me up at night. 

So take it in; as much as you can. Then, when you feel the crushing weight of the reality we are living through, look to the Heavens. 

This moment is fraught with death and despair. But as Followers of the Way we know that when suffering abounds and the light diminishes until we are in utter darkness – that is the moment our Redemption breaks through. Just when we find ourselves at the point of death, we must remember that we are a people of Resurrection.  Today’s Gospel reading from Mark 13:24-37 reads: 

13:24 But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 

So take it in; as much as you can. Feel the suffering of those who are alone in hospital rooms all over the world battling a disease our species has never before encountered. Try to comprehend the individual and collective grief of those most oppressed in this society that is bursting with oppression. Then look to the Heavens! 

Right now, in the darkness of this moment we must not forget who we are. We are followers of the Christ, the Son of Man. Our situation is hopeless – AND – soon our Savior will be born! This pain is endless and it will end! First, we have to hold on to the fact that we have no reason to hope. We must force our minds and hearts to realize that we cannot resuscitate the world that was. We must accept that our AED’s and CPR will not work. We must, like nurses paralyzed by a DNR, hold the weight of this present horror. When we finally rid ourselves of all shibboleths and embrace the crushing truth of our hopeless situation – then we may finally be able to embrace the spirit of Advent! We have no hope for deliverance and our Deliverer is coming! 


Keep Watch!

Published by Michael Le Buhn

I am an interfaith Chaplain with a Master's of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. I am also a disabled veteran living with PTSD. I love comic books and gardening and I talk about the world the way I understand the world - through stories.

2 thoughts on “DNR

  1. Michael,

    My beloved sibling and colleague in ministry. So it seems that your rich and challenging relationship with the desert Abba and Amma’s extend beyond you all. Maybe that Christian Anarchist Liturgy is, actually, a Devotional?


    Liked by 1 person

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