I am Bob Fleming.
It wasn’t until my early twenties when I went to see my GP about something else and she said, “Good grief, you’ve got a horrible cough there” that I realised it was abnormal not to spend the first two hours of every morning clearing my sinuses and coughing. I kept Kleenex in business – what was so unusual about that?
She sent me to see an ENT specialist. “What’s your problem?” he asked.
“I don’t think I’ve got a problem,” I replied.
The frustrated consultant questioned me more until I explained the back story. “Well,” he said, “the x-ray shows you have a polyp in your left nostril, but it’s clearly been there from birth and it’s evidently benign, so if you’re not worried I don’t see the point of surgery to remove it. Besides, it’s a rather messy operation.”
Now if a doctor says an operation is messy, I guess it’s very messy. Being offered the chance not to have a grotty procedure, I was glad to be discharged from the clinic. Later doctors put me on a repeat prescription of Beconase to keep the polyp down and deal with the allergic symptoms it gave me (it’s like having hay fever all year round).
And that was my situation until just before Christmas. At our current doctor’s practice, all repeat presscriptions are reviewed every six to twelve months. I had a review of my Beconase with one of the GPs. I said I wondered whether we ought to look at the question of my sinuses again. He assured me surgery had come a long way, and we might even just be looking at keyhole surgery by now to deal with the polyp.
So this morning, I had an out-patient appointment at the local hospital ENT clinic. A specialist inflicted local anaesthetic on both nostrils and then sent a camera up each of them in turn.
The verdict? There is no polyp. I don’t have a sinus problem, but I have a genuine breathing problem. The reason is that my nasal septum is out of shape on the left nostril side, and this makes gunk collect rather than dissipate easily. And no, you can’t explain my damaged septum by cocaine use. I’ve never been near the stuff. The doctor thought I had been this way since birth.
It’s possible that all the years of Beconase have shrunk the polyp out of existence. The curious question is why the consultant I saw in my twenties didn’t notice the out of shape septum. But that’s mucus under the bridge now.
I have been changed to a new nasal spray in place of Beconase. I await an x-ray appointment. Three weeks after that, I shall return to ENT and discuss whether to have surgery that will correct the kink in the septum.
All these years I have been living under a medical misapprehension. It’s amazing how often we do live under misconceptions in life. Only yesterday, our daughter wanted to have a conversation with me about Jamie Oliver the footballer.
“He’s not a footballer, he’s a chef,” I said.
“No, he’s a footballer,” insisted Rebekah.
“Well, you might have seen him kicking a ball on television and perhaps he enjoys football, but really he’s a chef,” I replied.
She wasn’t convinced, so I got Debbie’s copy of The Return Of The Naked Chef off the bookshelf. Showing her some pictures of recipés convinced her I was right.
The preacher in me can make a sermon illustration out of this – how people live under delusions and need convincing of the truth. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to do that work of convincing.
So people live under the delusion that their goodness will earn them a welcome from God. The Gospel shatters this with a message of grace and mercy. Richard Dawkins publishes ‘The God Delusion’ and only proves he is living under the greatest delusion of all, where even human wisdom is foolishnes in the eyes of God.
And we still live under delusions in the Church. We are on a lifelong (maybe even eternal) journey of having our delusions shattered, as the Light of the World shines into our darkness. When we receive and pass on a tradition without understanding it, we fall foul of the old maxim that the seven last words of a dying church are, “But we’ve always done it this way.” We practise Einstein’s definition of insanity, in which we keep doing the same things while expecting a different result.
The delusion-breaking work of regeneration is essential. But it is not the last word. It is God’s first word. He who began a good work in us will complete it on the day of Christ Jesus, says Paul in Philippians 1: the shattering has only just begun. We need to welcome it as it continues throughout our lives, for it is a critical component of discipleship.