One evening I was working in the Emergency Department of our local hospital when one of the mental health counsellors pulled me aside to talk about a patient.
“Katie’s an 11 year old girl, depressed since the summer. She claims to hear her dead sister’s voice telling her to do awful things. Can’t sleep, poor performance in school. Her mother is really worried and not sure what to do about her.”
Severe depression is not an uncommon reason I see patients in the ER. Such cases require a degree of delicacy to manage and the assessments are rarely quick, so I had Katie and her mom moved to a private room to escape the noise of the busy ER. When I walked in, they were both sitting across the table with masks on (Covid protocol). They were both on edge.
“Hi, you must be Katie. Sounds like you've had better days." This is my usual intro, a laughable understatement to break the ice. It worked. Shy smiles gave way to sighs of relieve - they'd come to the right place. I continued, “You must be Melissa, Katie’s mom. I imagine you've had your hands full with her, eh? Well, welcome to the hospital. How can I help you today?”
Melissa launched into the story. Katie's sister Trina died tragically three months prior. She had epilepsy but didn’t take her anti-seizure medications regularly. As a result, she’d been having seizures at home intermittently. One summer day she collapsed behind the door of the bathroom, and with the entrance blocked her family couldn’t get to her. Emergency services were called, but by the time they broke open the door, she’d been down for over 20 minutes. She wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. CPR was started immediately and Trina was rushed to the hospital while paramedics tried to resuscitate her.
As the story poured out, I sat transfixed. I knew all about the incident they were talking about. It wasn't something I'd heard about - I knew it because I’d seen for myself.
I was there when Katie’s sister died.
The memories hit me like a freight train. I’d been paged to the ER for a Code Blue. As I raced toward the ambulance bay the unit clerk called out after me, “Fifteen year old female, post-ictal, no pulse.” I clearly remember thinking, Fifteen?! This is going to be bad. CPR was underway. The attending ER physician was calling out medication orders as paramedics and nurses took turns performing chest compressions. The teenage girl - Trina - was laying on the gurney, lifeless. Still not breathing; no pulse. By the time she arrived in hospital, Trina’s chances of survival were virtually zero, but we still tried everything. Between compressions I carefully inserted a breathing tube through her vocal cords and down her windpipe. Normally this would cause severe coughing and gagging, but Trina didn’t flinch. Her brain wasn’t responding to any stimulation. As I looked down at Trina’s lifeless body, I racked my brain over anything else we could do to restart her heart. But nothing worked. Death was pronounced an hour after she arrived in hospital.
Back to Katie, I saw firsthand the hell she had been living through. All of us on the medical team had been devastated by Trina's death. How much more so for a young girl to lose her older sister so traumatically?
Removing my mask - this needed to be a face-to-face conversation - I said, "Listen, I’m not sure if this is proper procedure, but there’s something you need to know. I was there when your sister died.”
Both Katie and her mom started crying softly as they took off their masks too. I couldn’t hold back the tears either. I told them the whole story, about everything we tried to raise the dead. “We did everything we could to get her heart beating again. But we couldn’t. I'm so sorry.”
We were all crying openly now. I passed them a tissue box and we each helped ourselves.
I proceeded to explain that she was suffering from acute grief with episodes of psychosis. We talked about some medications to help with the emotional pain and what to expect in the coming months. Her prognosis - her chance of recover - was excellent, but would take a long time and regular check-ups.
“You’re not crazy, my dear. Grief, especially after something like this, can do crazy things. But we're here to help you through it.”
After appropriate medical and psychological therapy, Katie's symptoms eventually subsided. However, the terrible experience of losing a loved one to a stupid act of rebellion is something that whole family will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
We can learn a lot from this tragic story - much more than just the importance of taking anti-seizure medication. Trina's death shows us how dangerous rebellion can be.
Teenagers do dumb stuff all the time, little acts of rebellion to assert their independence. Driving too fast, jumping from heights, drinking too much, smoking cigarettes, hanging out with the wrong crowd. Usually nothing becomes of it - making mistakes is part of growing up! But any given act of foolishness could have devastating consequences: fatal car crash, drowning, addiction to alcohol or drugs, cancer from smoking, joining criminal gangs. Indeed, the consequences of Trina’s actions were deadly. And it didn’t end there - her sister suffered terribly because of her foolish actions.
Simply put, you can’t trifle with sin. We all make bad decisions, little acts of rebellion that satisfy some selfish desire. Usually, the consequences are negligible - nobody finds out, nothing bad happens, it gets forgotten - no harm done. But sometimes disaster strikes. Trina had multiple seizures that she recovered from before she died. But rebelling against her parents by not taking her medication caught up with her. Disaster struck without warning and she paid the ultimate price. Even more so, she wasn't the only one who suffered. Trina’s sister Katie - along with her mom and dad, grandparents, cousins, and friends - all had their hearts torn out with Trina's untimely death. An absolute tragedy.
You might think you can get away with your sin, that it’s no big deal. Those little acts of rebellion satisfy your dark, secret desires. However, at any time disaster can strike. The famous Las Vegas magicians Siegfried & Roy performed with massive lions and tigers for thirteen years before Roy was mauled on stage, causing career-ending injuries. You can’t play with tigers and expect to walk away in one piece every time. In the same way, you can’t trifle with sin and expect to escape unscathed, in this life or the next. Your dark indulgences might seem like harmless kittens, but the Bible says differently.
Be sober-minded. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet 5:8, ESV)
Upon entering their promised land, Israel was charged to completely clear out the current residents. All of them, or else.
I have given you this land to possess. If you don’t drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you’ll live. And then I’ll do to you what I plan to do to them. (Num 33:53,54-56, NIV)
When we allow sin to remain in our lives and continuously disobey God, the sin will slowly kill us and we’ll never really take possession of the inheritance God has for us. However, God will work with us to extinguish the sin in our lives, so we can live in freedom. If we don’t, God may allow that sin - the very thing he wants to eradicate in us but that we wouldn't give up - to consume us. Thus, anytime we trifle with sin, there’s the potential it will eventually destroy us. LIke playing with fire or abusing drugs, these behaviors have the potential to destroy us at any time.
You can’t tame sin; you can’t keep it as a pet. Nor can you keep things hidden in a closet or swept under the rug. One day all your dark secrets will be known by everyone.
There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. (Lk 12:2, NASB)
I once attended an older gentleman in the ER who had been secretly looking at pornography in his basement when he sustained a massive stroke. His wife of fifty years found with his pants down unconscious on the floor. Although paramedics stabilized him on life support, his brain was catastrophically damaged. His wife was so distraught that she couldn't bear to come to the hospital for the last moments of his life as he was taken off life support. His sin caught up to him when he least expected it and he was forever remembered by the shameful way he died.
How many secret pornography problems led to the collapse of a marriage? How many “just a couple drinks'' led to a deadly car crash? How many harsh words, angry outbursts, or spiteful comments led to the loss of jobs, trust, or relationships? Doping violations that led to the stripping of Olympic medals? Fudging the numbers on your tax return that led to audits, lawyers, and financial ruin? Dabbling in fentanyl that caused an overdose? Unwanted sexual advances that led to social ruin? Racist comments that led to all-out war? I’m sure Achan was a stand-up guy in Israel, but one little act of disobedience - secretly keeping plunder and burying it under his tent - led to the death of him and his whole family (Judges 7).
There’s simply no escaping the wages of sin. You can’t hide it and you can’t escape the consequences. Eventually your sin will catch up with you. And it won’t just be you suffering for it - those you love and would never willingly hurt will also be affected.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Pr 14:12, ESV)
Friends, please cease your rebellion towards God, especially those little sins that get shrugged off as inconsequential. The hospital (especially the morgue) is full of people who had a habit of making bad decision. Similarly, hell is full of "good people" who didn't take sin seriously. Let's make every effort to do as the Bible says, even when nobody’s watching.
Our lives, and the lives of others, depend on it.