“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.”
–1 Peter 2:21 (NLT)
Will stepped on the accelerator, glanced at his vibrating cell phone, and sped through the red light. Seeing the caller ID made him think of yesterday. He groaned, because that made him think of his promise to Ellie.
While the party had been great, it had gone on too long. It was true that he’d kept his promise to Ellie in one way, but he hadn’t in another. Last night’s housing solution for her was only temporary, and they would have to have their promised meeting with Gabriel’s Girls tomorrow.
Will decided to call Ellie back later. Traffic was too heavy to risk talking with anyone, and he needed to focus on getting to the evening class which the chaplain taught. It wouldn’t look good for Will to be late, as he had asked for special permission to join that class. He let Chaplain Pete know that picking his brain would help him formulate an independent study so he could graduate sooner.
Aside from that, though, it was no secret that the chaplain was a stickler about timeliness. One of the nurses warned Will over a cup of coffee that his nickname was Punctual Pete, and that he had a reputation for getting to all non-emergency appointments 15 minutes early.
Since Pete was a bachelor without a life, he was always on call. Unfortunately, however, Will leaned in the other direction, and tardiness had become one of his bad habits. Right then and there, Will promised himself that he would try to reform by following Chaplain Pete’s example.
“While I don’t intend to be a fanatic about it, I’ll turn over a new leaf today,” Will said out loud. Then he added, “If I don’t hit any more red lights, I just might make it on time.”
In order to avoid those pesky lights, he got on the freeway. But if he thought surface streets were bad, the bumper-to-bumper traffic was even worse. Soon Will was crawling along at a snail’s pace. He sighed heavily, wishing he’d turned on the radio before making an impulsive decision. But since rush hour had pretty much ended, he thought he was safe.
Since he could do nothing but wait, Will flipped the radio on and tried to find a live traffic report. Then he remembered a show called Music with Mike, and he decided to tune in. Will had listened to the show before, and in the mornings and evenings they gave traffic updates every 15 minutes. Will could at least see if his theory was correct.
Sure enough, the announcer cut into Will’s thoughts, droning in a bored voice.
“You may want to opt for surface streets if you usually take the I-10. There is a 3-car pile-up near Thomas and 40th. Now back to Mike, with more of your favorite hits!”
“Now they tell me!” Will groaned to himself, hitting the OFF button with all his might. Although he knew there was an exit in about 5 miles, it meant he’d have to backtrack to get to the hospital. Will didn’t enjoy the thought of this, but he had no other choice. Gritting his teeth at the exit, he waited for his turn in the long line of cars. Unless he could somehow make up the lost time, Will thought as he waited, taking a circuitous route would only mean another maze. Deciding to try it anyway, he sped off when his chance came, but he was pulled over, shortly after his exit.
When he finally did reach the hospital, Will found the nearest parking space and jumped out of the car. Glad that it was in close proximity to the door, he sprinted off down the hallway. Will had been given directions to the chaplain’s office last night in an email, but all the wheelchairs, beds and computers in his way slowed him down.
Upon reaching Pete’s office, Will found himself about half an hour late, so he entered the room softly and slipped into the seat closest to the door. But looking up, Chaplain Pete Davis spotted the latecomer anyway, and his voice boomed all the louder. Despite this interruption, he went on with his lecture without missing a beat.
“A good chaplain will make every effort to work harmoniously with the clinical team. Flexibility will be one of your most important assets. Crisis situations don’t wait for the right time to happen, so you need to be prepared to get to the hospital at a moment’s notice.”
Will knew that according to the syllabus the chaplain had emailed him, Pete was going over the first chapter in the handbook today. He would be discussing hesed, the biblical concept of mercy. Will had skimmed the chapter, but while he was familiar with many of the concepts, the fact that chaplain Davis approached these from a clinical standpoint shed new light on them.
In spite of this, his mind wandered as he studied his surroundings. The first wall was divided. A modest assortment of diplomas hung behind chaplain Pete’s head, while the other section across the room was lined with bookshelves. At right angles to the shelves, there was a beautiful mural of Jesus walking on a stormy sea. Below the picture it said, “In the world you will have trouble, but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.”
As Will studied the mural, an overhead speaker crackled to life, and an operator’s voice interrupted Will’s thoughts.
“Code blue in room 713! Code blue in 713!”
“I’m gonna have to let you go,” chaplain Pete told the class. As he breathlessly jogged out of the room, he pulled Will to his feet. “I might need your assistance. None of the other students have the experience you do. Have you ever been on a code before?”
“No, I thought I would just get in the way.”
“Well, that’s what you get for thinking. I’m short-handed. Now hurry up! This could be a crisis situation.”
As they waited for the elevator, Will wanted to ask the chaplain to expand upon what he had said back in his office. Thinking that this might open up a can of worms in regards to his punctuality, however, he tried to choose a neutral subject.
Finally hitting on one, he asked, “How would you define the chaplain’s role to an outsider?”
“Well …” Chaplain Davis looked at him thoughtfully. “Think about social workers. While their function is essential, what one of them can realistically do is limited to material needs. The job of the hospital chaplain is similar to a pastor’s, but more intense. As a spiritual caregiver, the chaplain’s job is to reach out to everyone in the hospital. Many who would not talk to a pastor will come to the chaplain.”
Pete concluded by saying, “I have always been captivated by this work, because ministry in the hospital goes beyond the 4 walls of the church.”
Will smiled and replied, “I know what you mean. That’s the way I felt about my internship.”
Slapping each other on the back, they waited in silence for the elevator doors to open.
Upon reaching the 7th floor, the chaplain hurried directly to the nurses station. Will almost ran to keep up.
“I want to look over Mr. Young’s chart,” Pete explained to the nurse on duty, asking her to fill in any details which the doctors hadn’t recorded yet.
As Pete studied the chart, he explained its data to his apprentice. “As you can see, Mr. Young was stable when the doctor went in, and he appeared to be doing fine. But a few hours later, when his call light went on and the nurse on duty checked in on him, she found him seizing. Since we couldn’t get a hold of the neurologist in time, Mr. Young was flown here. The doctors are doing all they can to save him.”
“Are their any family members I should speak with?”
“No, there is no family, but there is someone who would like to talk to you in the waiting room.”
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The chaplain turned to Will, sounding very much like a general issuing orders. “Since there are two of us, you will see that person while I go to the patient’s room. Do you need me to show you where this person is, or have you been to the waiting area before?”
Will shook his head.
“Okay, I’ve got some things to tell you on the way, so just listen. If you were going to stay with us, I would have you perform a special exercise. As part of your class work, you would do what is called a verbatim. It’s a report which is designed to heighten your observation skills. I know you aren’t working for us yet, but I would like you to try writing a verbatim anyway. It will only take a few minutes. Is that okay with you?”
At Will’s nod, Pete continued. “I want you to write up your talk with Mr. Conner from memory. Include as many details as you can. There will be no written or verbal recording allowed during your conversation. We’ll go over it together in a private session. You will find that learning from the notes you’ve made will become an invaluable tool for growth.”
As chaplain Davis ran back to the elevator, he called over his shoulder, “Here you are.”
Glancing into the waiting area, Will’s eyes lit on a distraught figure hunched in a corner.
Without looking up, the man mumbled, “It’s all my fault. … Who are you?”
“My name is Will. I’m assisting the chaplain. Why do you think this code is your falt?”
“Well, if I had been more careful, Eddie might not have taken the pills.”
“I doubt that could have been avoided, but why don’t you start at the beginning?”
“I was a counselor for the state, and I worked with Mr. Young.”
Will’s mouth dropped open for a moment. “What kind of counselor were you?” he probed gently.
“Eddie was blind,” the man sniffed, “and I was employed to help him learn his way around the area where he lived. But from the first day I met him, Mr. Young was closed off, and he didn’t want to trust me. Our relationship was always fragile, but when I finally started to break the ice, he showed me bruises on his arms.”
“Wow!” Will whispered. “I can see where that would be very upsetting, to say the least.” The student’s fingers tapped nervously. “Did they seem to be self-inflicted?”
“No, but here’s something that seems strange. Eddie lived in a place called Friendly House, and there was something mysterious about it. It was like they were trying to hold him captive, and use his blindness for financial gain. We were developing a plan about where Eddie would go when his therapy was done. I just have a small studio, but in the worst case scenario, he knew he could have lived with me temporarily. We talked about it together, so I don’t see why he would have taken those pills of his own volition. It just doesn’t add up.”
“I understand,” Will replied. “You think you should have been more observant, right?”
“Yes, without a doubt. I can’t forgive myself, and I don’t understand how God can forgive me either.”
“This will take time,” said Will in a soothing voice, “but from what you tell me, you are His child, and you know that Jesus is walking through the storms of life with you. Is that true?”
In answer, Conner nodded enthusiastically.
“On a related subject, the nurse told us there is no family here. Do you know anything about that?”
“That went right along with my plan to help him. Of course there would have been a conflict of interest if I had stayed in the state’s employment, but I was let go after 30 years. I thought that since I had been discharged, I could work with Eddie further, and over time I could perhaps gain his trust. I’m a widower living alone, and I told myself that maybe, just maybe, I could be the family he no longer had.”
The man fell back against his chair, as if exhausted, and stopped speaking.
“Well, this is a surprise! I was going to let you tell me your story without interrupting, but I know who you are.”
“How could you? asked the man in a shocked tone. “I just flew in.”
“You spoke to me last night about that call my friend received, and what you told me now matched everything you told us then. So I was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
“Oh,” said the man in recognition. “Didn’t you say your name was Will?”
“Yes, and yours is Conner. Would you consider doing me a favor?”
“If I can,” Conner replied.
“I won’t go into detail now, because this is a terrible time, but I don’t have a choice. The woman that Eddie called is in a dangerous situation. She is also blind, and she’s possibly moving away to save her life. If you can come to the address on my card tomorrow, it would help us out a lot. We’re having a meeting there, and we’ll get better acquainted. Then, after the others have left, we can talk about arrangements that need to be made for services.”
“Sure, I can do that,” said Conner, “and maybe I can help resolve some of the mysteries about Mr. Young at the same time.”
“Thanks!” Will sighed in relief. “I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me for a minute. I just received a text from the chaplain.”
Then his countenance fell, and there was a pronounced pause.
“Is he gone?” whispered the grief-stricken man, breaking the silence.
“Yes,” Will replied, “he died in his sleep after the latest seizure. The doctors pronounced him dead at 4:13. Would you like to see him?”
To Be Continued …
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