A call came through to our office at the front end of the day. “There’s a patient on your floor who wants a priest,” Jacob said.
“Maybe I should call the floor and find out if it’s an emergency first,” I responded back as I continued to check my emails. So, I got on the phone and asked. After I got the reply, I communicated back to the chaplain who was handling priest connections for the day. “No emergency. I’ll see him later in the day and tell him that a priest will be in tomorrow.”
I continued to work on my visit list, adding this man to the list, anticipating that I would see him early afternoon.
After lunch, I made my way up to the floor. I decided to read his chart just to be prepared for what I might see and hear. Then, I made my way over to the hand sanitizing dispenser, walked in and asked if the patient would welcome a visitor.
“Sure, come on in.”
Roy was sitting in the chair next to his bed. Even while seated, I could see that he was a very large man. Not obese but tall and big. His face was a little splotchy, probably due to a skin condition, and his hair was white and thinning. There were no notes or flowers in his room. In fact, it was rather stark.
“Hi, Roy. I’m Chaplain Pat. I heard that you wanted to see a priest today. Unfortunately, we don’t have a priest in house right now, but I could put you on the list for tomorrow. Is that OK?”
He answered quickly, “Sure.” As I looked at him, I thought I detected a need for company. He wasn’t smiling and was a bit hunched over. “OK if I sit down for a few minutes and talk with you?”
“I’d like that.” He looked up at me. His eyes were a pale blue. One lid was drooping. There was a life of sadness surrounding his gaze. I opened the closet, pulled out a chair and sat down in front of him. The tray table stood between us, and he leaned on it now and then.
“Tell me a little about yourself, Roy.” He began to share about his past---the fact that he had cerebral palsy that was due to physical abuse by his father. His siblings had somehow avoided the violence that caused Roy’s infirmity, but they had also been abused, and left home angry and determined to make something of themselves. In fact, all of them were wealthy and had an abundance of homes, boats and other symbols associated with wealth. Several lived out of state.
Roy lived in a facility and could no longer walk. He was confined to a wheelchair. Having suffered several TIA's in the past few months, he was back in the hospital to find out if he had had another one.
I listened, and what I heard broke my heart. How can life be so cruel? How much can one person bear? I asked him about his faith. Since he was Catholic and had wanted a priest, I thought this was a fair question. “Does your faith help you through these hard things?”
“I’m not even sure God is around. I don’t feel like he cares about me.”
“Sometimes it certainly feels like that. Do you have any friends? People that you can trust?”
“Yes. I do have some AA friends. I have a mentor who I talk to now and then….He looked down. Tears began to form in the corners of his eyes and began cascading down his cheeks. He took a few minutes to wipe them away and then appeared to have a hard time swallowing.
“Would you like me to get your nurse to see if I can give you some water?”
“Please.” I checked with his nurse and he could have nothing by mouth until his tests were over. I relayed this information to him.
He continued to clear his throat and swallow and kept apologizing for the delay in his responses. I waited silently. When he had collected himself, I ventured, “What are the tears about?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t cried for years…”
“You have a lot of stored up sadness. It’s a healthy thing to cry and release those feelings.”
His hands began to shake. “There’s something else. I don’t know if I should tell you. There could be a lawsuit over this. Do you promise not to tell anyone?”
“Our conversations are absolutely confidential. Even when I write my notes, I will say nothing about the content of our conversation, only that you appeared sad and anxious,” I wanted to give full disclosure.
He hesitated. And then hesitated some more. I was already determining that there were psychological issues present. And no wonder! This man had been through so much. Had been abused, belittled, neglected and scoffed at.
“I have a secret,” he whispered. “I have a brain tumor. Every time I tell someone, they don’t believe me, but it’s there. The doctors have run tests, and they can’t find it, but I know it’s there. Do you believe me?”
I had a choice. I had already looked at his chart. There was mention of a brain tumor but that his CT scan was clear. Do I tell him that I believe him or do I question him? What was the loving thing to do?
“Yes, I do believe you. That must be a very frightening thing.” His anxiety was through the roof. He continued to talk about his fear of the future.
I was hoping that what I wanted to do next would not minimize his fears but actually give him an out and empower him. “Roy, what would it feel like to let the past be, put the future in God’s hands and live in the present?”
“That’s exactly what my mentor said to me not too long ago.” Phew! My gamble paid off! Thank God!
“What is happening in the here and now that might give you hope?”
“You being here.”
“Aw, I appreciate that.”
“You have given me hope. I feel better somehow.” Just simple listening and validating can hold so much power…
“You know, Roy, you’re not in this life alone. God has brought people into your life who care about you. Those tears that you cried today were not only tears of sadness but could be an evidence of the Holy Spirit touching you. Many people feel emotional when the Spirit comes to them, loving them.”
He listened to what I said. He didn’t say anything in response, but he heard me.
“I would like to bring you a gift. It’s called a love blanket. We bring these to patients who need to know they are loved. Would you like one?”
He smiled. The first smile I had seen in the hour I had been sitting across from him. “Yes, I would.”
“What is your favorite color?”
“Blue or purple. I really like both colors.”
Later, I dropped in to see him before I left for the day. I had found a blue plaid fleece blanket. Placing it over him, he remarked, ”I was cold, and now I’ll be warm.” I waved goodbye and left the room. As I was washing my hands on the way out, I thought, So much truth in those words.