I talked with his wife on Monday. She was feeling pretty overwhelmed which is fairly normal when people are first admitted. There's so much adjustment: the reality of the diagnosis, all the staff from all the various disciplines calling and setting up appointments, the delivery of equipment - oxygen tanks and compressors and plastic tubing, walker, bedside commode/urinal, shower chair, hospital bed - and rearranging furniture to make it all fit.
Did I mention the part about the reality of the diagnosis?
She asked me to come on Tuesday, after her husband returned from dialysis, but asked me if I would pray with her on the phone. Which, of course, I did. I'm actually getting pretty good at it, for someone with an acute addiction to the beauty of the language in the BCP.
On Tuesday morning at 8:15, she called me again to say that her husband comes home from dialysis "really wiped out" and could we reschedule for Wednesday? Sure, no problem, said I. She asked again for prayers.
Matt Lauer on mute and without a BCP in sight. That was even before my second cup of coffee.
Today, right after IDT (Interdisciplinary Team Meeting which happens every two weeks), I called to confirm our appointment at 2 PM.
This is that conversation:
Me: Hi, it's Chaplain Elizabeth, just confirming our appointment for 2 o'clock.
Wife: Well, um . .. I don't know . . .
Me: Is everything okay?
Wife: Well, you know .... it's like this: I don't rightly know if your coming will make a difference.
Me: How do you mean?
Wife: Well, the last time he was in the hospital, about 3 weeks ago, you know, before this last time? Well, the hospital chaplain came by - she was a very nice lady - and, well, he got saved. You know?
Me: He was baptized?
Wife: Well.... yeah, I guess. I dunno, actually. He got SAVED, you know?
Me: I see. Sooooo . . . I'm not sure . . . .
Wife: Well, OBVIOUSLY! It didn't work
Me: I'm sorry. I don't think I understand . . .
Wife: Well, she supposedly SAVED him, right? And it wasn't 10 days and he was back in the hospital and now, he's worse! Now, he's on hospice. So, he wasn't saved. Not. At. All.
Me: I . .. umm . . . I . . .
Me: I .. . umm . . . well, you see . . . um . . . I .... I mean 'we' .... we don't actually do the saving. See? No one does the saving. That's Jesus. Jesus is the Savior. Not the chaplain. Not me. I'm just the vehicle. Jesus is, well, the driver. See? But . . . even then . . . that's not really what it means . . .'to be saved'. It's . . . . .
Wife: Well, now . . . Really? . . . . .What in the hell good is THAT?
Looooong pause. Obviously waiting for an answer.
Me: I . . . ummm . . . well . . . I think we're talking about two different things, here.
Wife: No . . . no . . . no, we're not. We are talking about him being saved. I stood right there at my husband's hospital bed and she said, "You will not die forever." FOREVER! She said. And, she said it like she meant it. And, I believed her. So did my husband.
And, if that nice HOSPITAL chaplain couldn't save him, what in the hell good are YOU - a HOSPICE chaplain - gonna be able to do? Nothin', that's what! He's gonna DIE. I know that now.
They were talking at the dialysis center about not doing the treatments anymore. Because, you know, he's on HOSPICE. So, there's not a single thing in the world you can do to save him.
Me: The doctor and nurses at the dialysis center said they were going to stop dialysis?
Wife: Nooooo! (As if I were a Very Stupid Person). The lady in the waiting room said that.
Me: And, so.... she was.... a doctor or a nurse or a technician?
Me: Well, actually, I think, until you hear that from your doctor . . ..
Wife: Look, I know. I got it. He's gonna DIE! So, there's no sense you coming 'round to save him because it won't work. You or Jesus or whoever it is who promises to save you and then, when you really need them, it's all 'well, that's not really what it means".
(I had a flash of a line from the movie, Princess Bride. You know. When Vizzini keeps saying, "Inconceivable! And Inigo Montoya says, "I don't think you mean what you think you mean." It gave me a momentary silent chuckle, which my soul desperately needed at that particular point in time.)
Wife: It's a joke! Except, it ain't funny! You guys are a joke! It ain't funny!
You know what I'd do, if I were you?
Me: No, what?
Wife: I'd quit!
Wife: Yes. I'd quit working for that Jesus, 'The Savior', cuz he makes promises he can't keep.
Me: Yes . . . well . . . I . . .
Wife: And, you should never make promises you don't know you can keep.
Me: Yes. . .. well . . . . I
Wife: So, have a nice day. Or a blessed day. Or whatever it is you 'nice' people say to each other. Because, you know, I knew there was a reason I don't like nice people. Can't trust them. No, sir. They say nice things to you and make you promises and then you find out it's all a Big. Fat. Lie.
My husband is gonna DIE. . . . You can't save him.. . . . Jesus can't save him. . . . .
(Barely audible whisper) . .. I can't save him.
* CLICK *
+ Watch your language. Really. Some people take you at your word. Literally.
+ Never make a promise you don't know you can keep.
+ Security is an illusion.
+ The Beatles were wrong. If 'love is all you need', we'd all live forever. Here.
+ When you are standing (or, talking on the phone) with someone who is peering into The Abyss, having a sense of The Absurd is important. Having a sense of humor is absolutely essential. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is critical.
+ You're not as smart as you might think you are. You're not as dumb as others might think you are.
+ Hospice is not for sissies.Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering: I haven't written my letter of resignation to Jesus.
Not today, anyway.