It was a Sunday morning. A work day. I don’t usually work on the weekends, anymore, but this was one of those days. I had two hospitals to cover, about six miles apart. The one is big, bustling, and beautiful. I spend most of my time there.
The other is cared for by equally committed caregivers who happen to work in an environment that does not always seem to be the focus of attention. I spent my first year as a chaplain there and feel connected to those folks, many of whom continue to work in this specific location on purpose, bringing all they have to those who need it. I often start my weekend day at what we call “UD”, University District. I attend rounds on the medical floor and then try to make a visit or two or maybe three before I head over to RiverBend, which I kiddingly refer to as the “Big Dog.”
Knowing there would be lots to do at RiverBend today, I listened during rounds and determined that there was one patient I had to try to see. This was a GIP patient in room 372. GIP stands for “General In-Patient,” a term for hospice patients who have been admitted to the hospital, often because of pain issues that cannot be managed outside this acute setting.
That was the situation for this man about 50 years old who was dying of cancer. But he wasn’t dying easily. Or quickly, or painlessly, either, despite the attempts and care of the staff. I peeked into his darkened room and saw him asleep in his bed with another person sprawled on a nearby chair, intently trying to catch up on missed rest during this unofficial truce. There have been two instances in the hospital where I have experienced a terminal patient in agonal pain. I’m not displeased that I did not have to experience that this day. I asked the nurse how the night had gone and about his wife—where she was and how this was for her. Pain control was still elusive at times, she said. For now, he was quiet and not hurting. He was at death’s door, it seemed. But for now that door was locked despite the banging.
There was no one to talk to, and I needed to get moving. Lots of people to see at the Big Dog. Oh well, I had tried. Did my best. Surely didn’t want to wake up this patient for any reason right now. Let him sleep. Let them both sleep. I told the ward clerk I was leaving and headed down to the first floor. I wondered where his wife was. In the cafeteria?
Suddenly I realized this was not my normal exit path. I usually take the sky bridge connected to the third floor over the street and then go down to the parking garage. But not today. For some reason, as I headed towards the crosswalk, I glanced at the woman standing by the bus stop, which in this location was a self-contained unit, consisting of a steel post with a bus schedule at eye level as well as a small bench attached at the appropriate height. She did not look up at me. She seemed to be in her own world.
Then I saw it.
A sticky label attached to her dress. Three numbers on it. “372.” She wore that so staff would know her reason for being in the hospital. This was the wife. The one I had been looking for.
I quietly introduced myself by name as a chaplain (she could see my badge as well) and I told her I had been looking for her. We sat on that small bench and she told me her story of deep pain and suffering. Of the hope for recovery that had grown and faded and now was only a distant memory. She mentioned their faith and the help it had been to them. And she also said how hard a time her husband was having dying. She asked if I would pray that her husband would die soon. I said, “Of course I will.”
So I prayed for God to take her husband home very soon and end his pain. And I asked for God to comfort her in her sorrow, disappointment, and hurt. When the prayer was over I held her for just a second. I then was able to provide some assurance to her that God cared. I said, “I was looking for you and I was not able to find you, I believe God led me to you. And you know what? You are the only person in this hospital that I will probably see today. I want you to realize that you are very special to God and to me as well.” She was touched.
And, oh yes, the door finally opened. He died later that day. Quietly it seemed.
That was the only time I ever saw her.
The story of Jesus in Samaria with his disciples came to me as I drove over to RiverBend. He said to them, “As you look around, would you say it looks like about four months until the harvest? (or in my case, about six miles!) Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. It’s harvest time!”
Room 372 is there, if I just am looking for it. _________________________________________________________________________
Gordon Ruddick is a hospital chaplain in the greater Eugene, Oregon area. Through his own heart issues, he has come to specialize in cardiac patients, both as inpatients as well as in an outpatient setting. God is using him to help them deal with all that serious illness (especially heart issues) brings up for them.
His prayer concerns: Comfort at the loss of his father, a former CB pastor, who passed recently after a long battle with dementia. Thankfully his death was quick and peaceful.
His report noted two first-time decisions for Christ! That’s something we can all rejoice over.
For more stories of ministry by CBAmerica chaplains, go to www.cbamerica/chaplaincy. For information on endorsement with CBAmerica, contact Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at email@example.com.
The harvest is ripe!