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Summary: My colleague, Father Elias, began his sermon on the Sunday I was in hospital by saying.

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My colleague, Father Elias, began his sermon on the Sunday I was in hospital by saying, “I think if it had appeared in the paper that a priest had threatened to beat up a fellow patient in a Sydney Hospital, the most common response would have been, ‘I didn’t know Dave was in hospital!’”

I’ve never pictured myself as having any aptitude for hospital work.

I appreciate that hospitals are an ideal context in which to offer care and compassion to persons in need, but such relationships are always short-term, and hence seem somewhat artificial to me. Certainly I could never see myself as a hospital chaplain – managing a constant turnover of such intense, short-term relationships.

Even so, when I found myself in hospital, not through any deliberate planning on my part but through the unpleasant workings of providence, I figured I’d have to make the best of the situation and take whatever opportunities the Good Lord put in my path. I was sorta hoping though that He’d give me a bit of a break.

Maybe it was that desire for a break that led me to introduce myself to the other blokes in my ward as ‘Dave: fight trainer and former pro fighter’, rather than as ‘Father Dave: Parish Priest’. What was the difference anyway? I had ‘Father Dave’ written on the label above my bed in case anybody cared to look, and, in truth, the other blokes didn’t really seem to be overly interested in anybody else‘s business anyway (God bless them).

Most of the other blokes weren’t overly forthcoming about themselves either – a quiet but decent bunch. The exception was the guy in the bed immediately opposite me – a guy who increasingly showed himself to be neither quiet nor decent – a guy named ‘Homer’.

I won’t mention his surname, as I want to respect some confidentiality, but I will say that it wasn’t ‘Simpson’. In many ways though it should have been. As time wore on, Homer gave an increasingly clear impression that he was as rude, lazy, unintelligent and as all-round self-obsessed as his three-fingered counterpart but had few of his animated namesake‘s redeeming features.

Homer would start his whinging early in the morning, and it seemed that the less people listened to him, the louder he became. He would complain about the food, the service, the bedding, the medication, the heat, the cold, and the lack of meaningful viewing alternatives on the television.

For the most part I was happy enough to just let this wash over me, but it was when he started honing in his attacks on a particular member of the nursing staff that I really started to lose my patience.

It started at 4am one morning. All of us in the ward were woken from our slumber to hear Homer loudly scolding Nurse Lee because she wouldn’t give him more pain-killers.

“But I’m only allowed to give you 2 tablets every 6 hours” the nurse said.

“No!” Homer would reply. “The doctor told me that I was allowed to take them every two hours!”

“He couldn’t have possibly told you that, Mr Homer”, the nurse replied.

“I know what I heard”, Homer shouted in response.

And in such manner the stoush continued, with the unfortunate nurse holding her ground while Homer became increasingly obnoxious in his use of language. At one point he even suggested that the good nurse should go and re-read her Hippocratic oath – ‘that the customer is always right!’

Homer’s knowledge of Hippocrates pretty well summed up the wisdom of his position as I saw it. He neither understood manners, history, nor what was good for him. Even so, if it were possible to compensate for a lack of substance with an increase of volume, he was the guy to do it!

Eventually the supervising doctor was found and the moment of truth arrived. “You told me I could take these every two hours!” Homer exclaimed. “I most certainly did not. You can only take them every six hours!” replied the doctor. “Oh”, said Homer. “… I thought you said every two”

Now you would have thought that this would have spelt the end of the conflict. What other options were there at this point for the defeated Homer except to apologise to the doctor, the nursing staff and his entire hospital audience, and to walk away quietly with his tail between his legs.

If Leonidas, king of Sparta, had found himself in this position at Thermopylae he would have apologised to the rapacious King Xerxes, rounded up his troops and returned home. If Luke Skywalker and his mates had found themselves in this position at the Battle of Endor, they would have surrendered to the nearest storm-trooper and sworn loyalty to the Emperor. If the Devil himself … ok, you get the idea. My point is that Homer was no ordinary human being. He didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘defeat’ (or many other words for that matter), so instead of backing down and apologising he upped the attack.

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