John the Baptizer Part II

The Seventh Day

A few days after her Baptism, I came to check on her to see how she was recovering from her heart surgery. I was disappointed to find that she was going to need another surgery. She sat up in her bed, and brushed the sides of her very short hair as she filled me in on what the surgeon had said to her. There was a tear in her aorta and she was processing the fact that she was going back into surgery so soon. 

“How are you doing with all of this? How is your spirit?” I began.

“My spirit is great – but my body hurts.” She replied. Her eyes locked onto me as she shuffled in her bed. She could never quite get comfortable in the hospital bed.
“How do you feel about going back into surgery?” I pressed.
“I’m scared.” She said flatly. At this she pressed the button on her bed to call the nurse.
“What makes this so scary?” I asked out of genuine concern and some curiosity. I didn’t know if this surgery was more dangerous than the last.
“Well see.. Years ago, my mother had heart surgery…” She began.

“Do you need something?” The nurse’s assistant interrupted. I smiled at her underneath my mask.

“Yeah, more coffee.” She replied as-a-matter-of-factly.
“Oh, okay. I’ll get you some right now!” The NA replied. 

“It’s hard for me to be nice to them when I’m in pain. I don’t want to be nasty, but I’m hurting and it makes me impatient. Coffee helps.” She explained. “Anyway, my mother had heart surgery and came out a vegetable. I’m afraid. I’m afraid that’s going to happen to me.”

“What am I gonna do about this fear

We sat in the heaviness of that information as she seemed to pour over old, painful memories.

The NA returned emptied handed, “Umm… I’m really sorry but…” she began.
“Let me guess, Jillian (RN) said, “no coffee?”” She interjected.
“Yeah… Jillian thinks you should maybe space it out since you can only have two cups today and you’ve already had one this morning.” The NA was visibly nervous.
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, “No problem. Thanks for trying.” She finally said.

As the door closed She looked at me with a wry grin on her face, “Let me tell you what I know – Jillian wasn’t coming off that coffee. It was never gonna happen.” We both laughed.
“What am I gonna do about this fear though, dude?” She loved calling me “dude.” I loved it too. It was affectionate – like she was assuring me that she knew I was on her side.

“Have you ever seen After Earth?” I asked
“No – should I?” She answered
“Well – that depends on how you feel about Will Smith. But in the movie he talks about fear. He says that it can only exist in our thoughts about the future. It changed my life when I heard that because I’ve never been afraid of something that happened only of things I am afraid will happen.
“Dude. I have never thought about it like that!”
“Me neither – not until I heard Will Smith say it. So, in the movie, he tells his son to rewrite the future. If your mind is telling you a scary story, take control of the narrative!” 

“So right now I’m afraid that what happened to my mother will happen to me,” she began. “But, I could come out just fine. Wow, Dude. Wow.”

“What happened to your mother was horrible. I want you to know that I heard you when you shared what happened to her and I am so sorry that it happened.”
“Yeah. It was bad.” She let herself revisit that grief. I tried to stay right there with her.

She was a veteran, so I knew she’d understand what I said next: “I’ll keep watch, my friend. I promise.”

She was feeling much more optimistic. She spoke with the surgeon after I left the day before and said that he took her confidence level from 60% to 95%. Her surgery would begin the next morning. 

I asked her if she wanted me to contact anyone in her family to support them while she was in surgery and she said, “No – you’re my angel and I’m not sharing.” I assured her that I am no angel and she replied that if I was blameless then I wouldn’t be the right angel for her. We had a good laugh. I asked if she needed anything from me before her surgery and she said, “Just stay with me, okay, Dude? Just knowing you are in the loop makes me feel better.” She was a veteran, so I knew she’d understand what I said next:

“I’ll keep watch, my friend. I promise.” It was a promise I could keep.

I paid attention to when she went into surgery and I paid attention to when she got out. I held her in my heart in the silence of my commute home. After my children went to bed I wondered if she had woken up yet. “I’m here, I’m watching,” I spoke to the air.

Saturday Day 1
I was on call. I was called-in for another grieving family and when I left their room I checked my friend’s chart to see if she had started to recover so that I might visit her. Still asleep. I prayed for her on my way back home – in the quiet that cities fall into when everyone is asleep. “Too quiet,” I thought, “like a house that is still because someone is oversleeping.” 

Sunday Day 2
My mind drifted in and out of worry so my heart drifted in and out of prayer.

Monday Day 3
She was still sleeping when I visited her room. I stood by her bed and spoke to her from time to time. There was a nurse training a student nurse in the room and they talked about procedures and the student asked questions. I kept watch. I could feel her in the room with us. Her body did not respond to any verbal or physical cues, but my spirit felt the same as when we spoke on Thursday. I talked to her like she could hear me because I knew she could. 

The student had to give her a shot: “I’m sorry if this pinches!” she said. I was grateful for her compassionate, attentive care.

I talked to her like she could hear me because I knew she could. 

Tuesday Day 4
I couldn’t go see her. I checked to see if she was awake – she was still sleeping.
In another room, an 81 year old psychologist was struggling to speak to me. He had something important to say. I was on the edge of my seat. Just as he found the words, 3 nurses walked in apologizing for interrupting but insisting the interruption was necessary.

“Just one moment please.” I pleaded with my hand raised toward them. They halted and waited with me.
“There is more… communication between people… than verbal… and non-verbal… communication.” His eyes were squinted shut as he focused all of his energy on these words. He took deep breaths. My mind started recording him. “Your spirit… touches other spirits… and we do not yet know how.” He relaxed and looked content.
“Thank you – I won’t forget that.” I promised. It’s a promise I can keep.

Wednesday Day 5
I brought her a pick for her hair. She was connected to an EEG machine that was measuring something in her brain. I spoke at length with her. At times I felt she was near me, other times she seemed far. I just kept on talking. I asked what it is like wherever she is. I wondered aloud if my voice seemed to be a whisper in the rustling brush outside of a bank, or if it boomed from heaven in a wasteland, or if we were sitting around a fire talking. I told her about my coworkers and my friends back home. I gossipped a little about the neighborhood. I felt she liked that best.

At one point the nurse popped her head in, “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, we’re just talking.” I replied.
“Oh well you seemed – bothered.”
“Oh I was just telling her about something that bothered me.” I said as she smiled and left.

As I left, her nurse stopped me and put her hand on my arm. Her West Indies accent sounded like music as her eyes searched mine. “I promise,” she offered, “I will make sure her hair is perfect when we take off the wires.” My eyes filled with tears and I put my hand to my chest, I nodded, and left.  

Your spirit… touches other spirits… and we do not yet know how.

Thursday Day 6
Still sleeping. This time she was far from me. I told her I was there and then sat in a chair facing her. I closed my eyes and meditated. I imagined we were sitting around a fire somewhere old and cold where the sky was big and the fire was enough warmth for a lengthy conversation. “Dude…” I could hear her say, “this is crazy right?” We talked and talked and once in a while I would break my meditation to say, “I’m still here with you – sitting next to your bed.” Across the fire she looked at me like I was silly, “I know that!” We laughed.

As I left the nurse informed me that the following day her family was coming to the hospital and her physical supports would be removed.
“Please make sure to page me. I need to be here for that.” I told the nurse.
“I promise.” She said. It was a promise she would keep.

Friday Day 7
I woke up early and ironed my favorite shirt. I put on my best suit and wore my nicest necktie. I made sure my mohawk was perfect. Once I was paged, I met her family and told her I was with her. I told her I was keeping watch – that I had kept watch all along. I offered what Peace and Presence I could to her family and I let my spirit travel to the fire where she sat throwing sticks and cockleburs into the flames. She was close. Then far. Then close again. I touched her hand as I left. “I’m still watching,” I promised. 

Her sister told me that the night before her surgery she left instructions. I wrote them down word for word:

If I don’t wake up after the surgery, give me seven days and then take me off life support. The seventh day is the seventh day.  

I drove Kazuhiro home that afternoon and told him everything.
“Michael, do you think she was referencing the Sabbath?” he asked. I sobbed.
“I don’t know, Kaz. But thank you.”

She rested.

Published by Michael Le Buhn

I am an interfaith Chaplain with a Master's of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. I am also a disabled veteran living with PTSD. I love comic books and gardening and I talk about the world the way I understand the world - through stories.

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