Sledge Hammer


I felt like I was having a heart attack, which I only knew because a doctor friend once told me they feel like there’s an elephant sitting on your chest. I was two solid months into recovery. Everything had been going according to plan. My sternum had healed, my incision sites were now pinkish scars, and the medically induced fog had dissipated to partly cloudy skies. I was ready to return to work. But something was wrong. Chest pain and shortness of breath, I’d been told, were an automatic trip to the emergency room, and I had both in spades.

The ER was relatively quiet when I arrived so they got me into a bed right away. Though I had my own room my door was just a curtain, so I could hear everything happening out in the hall. Soon after they had me stabilized, things started picking up on the other side of my blind. I heard the shorthand of police radios, a man groaning in pain, and the hospital staff asking questions like “Sir, do you know where you are?”

I don’t care who you are or what shape you’re in; when you find yourself in the middle of something involving cops and the ER, eavesdropping becomes as involuntary a response as breathing. I clicked off the TV and listened. The police spoke in muffled but authoritative voices. The attending asked them to step out into the waiting room. Things settled down for an hour or so until the groaning man sobered some and started talking. He sounded a mess—sometimes gentle and polite, other times demanding and angry. When he got angry the police reappeared with their chirping radios and matter-of-fact tones. When he calmed down, they left.

The groaning man and I shared a nurse—a muscular twenty-something named Mike. The ER understandably liked to have at least a few strong male nurses during the night shift for those inevitable middle-of-the-night cases where the inebriated needed to be subdued. Mike did his best to make me as comfortable as possible but I’d have been a fool to think I was in any way a priority.

As the man sobered up, he wanted to talk. Mike had some questions of his own, so he obliged his patient, listening to his story like it was part of his job. When the man had said his peace Mike asked, “Sir, did you, at any point, lose consciousness after your cousin hit you in the head with the sledge hammer?”

“No,” the man answered, with more than a bit of incredulity.

“Well sir,” Mike said, “you’re a stronger man than I.”

The man said, “Exactly.”

Russ Ramsey
Russ is a pastor and author living in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), and the Retelling the Story Series, featuring The Advent of the Lamb of God (IVP, 2018). His personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

One Response to “Sledge Hammer

  • For most people, food is just food. It’s something you eat and enjoy, and that’s about it. But for those foodie types, food is something to be mulled over, ruminating on the interplay of flavors and sussing out the ingredients. I’m like that with good food. I’m like that with writing, too.

    So this is one of those pieces which, like a delicious dish made from indecipherable ingredients, is an enjoyable enigma. I don’t know what that was, but I like it.

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