Friday, September 21, 2007

Knocked Off My Horse

I was a few weeks into my “I’m never going to do this again” attitude about hospital ministry, when I received a phone call from the chaplain at the local hospital. There was a woman in ER who had just been told her daughter had a brain tumor and was going to die. Could I come? The lady was Catholic and needed someone from her faith.

Well, damn. How could I say no?

At the hospital, I walked into the exam room in the ER and saw a woman, Wilma, standing in the middle of the room. She was just standing there. Alone. The bed was gone. Oh, my God, I thought. I’m too late. The girl is dead.

I introduced myself and Wilma told me that they had taken her daughter, Rene, to surgery. The doctors were going to try to reduce the swelling in her brain caused by the tumor. There was only a slim chance she would make it through the surgery.

Faced with her fear and anguish, I wanted to run out the door, but I steeled myself and stayed. One of the biggest concerns that Wilma had was that Rene might die without baptism. She explained that Rene’s father was not Catholic and refused to have the kids baptized. Was it possible to have her baptized now? Not just the emergency baptism, but a real one with a priest?

Luckily, my pastor at the time had a real strong pastoral streak, so he agreed to come to the hospital. As soon as Rene came out of surgery, we went into the recovery room and had the rite. Because I was the only other Catholic in the room, I was named as her godmother.

Several days later, much to the doctor’s surprise, Rene woke up and appeared to be just fine. Wilma called to tell me the good news, so I went by to visit later. When I came into the room, Wilma started to introduce us, and Rene said. “I know who you are. You’re my godmother.”

I always think of that as my St. Paul moment. You know, knock me off my horse to get my attention. I guess like St. Paul, I needed more than just the gentle nudge that most folks get.

Until next time….

Monday, September 17, 2007

In the Beginning...

My first experience with the death of a patient when I was fresh into hospital ministry was a young man with leukemia. He and his family belonged to our parish and I was assigned to visit him in the hospital through our Hospital Ministry program. That wasn't too bad. I would stop by on Sunday and bring him communion and maybe visit a little if he was up to it. No fuss. No sweat. Easy on the emotions.

When I started visiting, he was receiving treatment that appeared to be working, so he would go home and rejoin his young wife and children in a couple of weeks. And I would have a positive story to share with the rest of the group when we met for support and debriefing. Maybe we could even invite Hallmark in to make a commercial.

Why is it that when we think we have it all figured out, God, in his or her infinite wisdom, throws the proverbial monkey wrench into the equation.

One day, the head of our Ministry program called me to ask if I would visit this man at home. The treatments had stopped working and he was dying. He had asked for someone to visit and bring him communion, and since I already had a connection to him it would be good for me to make the visit.

Gulp! What happened to the Hallmark moment?

I went. But I'm not sure I was a whole lot of help to the family. I wasn't prepared for this sudden turn of events, and I wasn't sure how I could represent a God that I was a bit pissed at. It was totally unfair that this man was dying, and I wondered about a God who would let that happen.

Looking back now, I have to smile. I'd forgotten how green I was at all this and how unwilling I was to enter into that tough arena of death. And I obviously had a whole lot to learn about why bad things happen to good people and God's part in all that.

This experience was almost the end of my association with hospital ministry. After the young man died, I swore I was not going to do it any more. It was too hard. I did not want to get attached to another patient and then watch them die.

That was my plan, but again, God had another one in mind. He/She introduced me to Rene, but more about that next time.