It was about 6 o’clock on Friday night, and we were discussing where to take dear Cheesehead for dinner on her last evening in City By the Sea. Our original plan to drive to a seaside location had been changed by gloomy weather. We considered a local eatery known for its beers on tap and its special fries and stunning spanakopita. Pure Luck, home briefly before returning tomorrow to Non-Contiguous New England State for a six-week stint in Nuclear Land, suggested we might have more fun going to dinner without him. For some odd reason he seemed to think we might be discussing blogging, or ministry, or women topics. Who could figure?
Then, the phone rang, and I came to a terrible realization.
It was my night to be on call at the hospital. From that moment until 8 the next morning, I was the person who would be called should there be a request for a Protestant chaplain.
I asked the questions we are supposed to ask:
Are you sure the patient is not Catholic? (This is a common mix-up, believe it or not, and I have gone in on a Friday evening only to be turned away. So now I always ask.)
Who made the referral? (Sometimes the patient, sometimes a family member, sometimes a staff member.)
What do we know about the case? (Sometimes the switchboard knows, particularly if a death has occured, but if not, I usually ask to be put through to the nurses’ station on the patient’s floor.)
The answer to the second question raised a red flag. It was, "I don’t know. The person hung up. They just said the patient was in distress about __________ and could use a visit from the chaplain."
I asked to speak to the nurse. The nurse said the patient was doing well and had a room full of family. I asked the nurse to ask the patient if a Chaplain’s visit was desired this evening, or would she like a visit from the regular day Chaplain after the weekend? The nurse came back and answered the latter. No one seemed to know who had made the call.
I told Cheesehead, "Well, usually I don’t even get called, so I’m sure I won’t hear from them again. Why don’t we get some carryout and eat it here and watch my Netflix DVD of Season Two of The Vicar of Dibley?"
Cheesehead felt she could get behind that plan.
While we were still discussing the possibilities, the phone rang again.
"Chaplain Songbird, we have a request from a family. The patient is about to die."
That sounded somewhat more convincing, and I headed to the hospital. I visited and prayed with the family, but I’m going to say the news of the patient’s death had been somewhat, if not greatly, exaggerated; certainly the family wasn’t going there just yet.
I left the hospital about 7:30 p.m. Meanwhile, The Princess had been at her first Middle School dance, and I called her dad’s house to check in and hear about how it went. Snowman answered, and in a guarded tone of voice said, "I’d better let her tell you."
Oy. I went straight over there. I heard a long tale of woe about one person telling Guitar Player (who The Princess likes) that she actually like Boy With Cute Red Hair. Then someone came back and reported that Guitar Player has liked The Princess ever since 5th grade. This brought about an hour of crying in the girls’ locker room. Apparently it was quite the gathering place for crying middle school girls last night. In the end, she came back out to the dance, and Guitar Boy approached and said, "I don’t believe anything so-and-so said," which was a great relief to The Princess, and then allowed as how he isn’t "old enough to date anyone yet." She felt his remarks were delivered with extreme cuteness. That seemed to make things a little better, and we tried to convince her the evening wasn’t generally catastrophic.
I got home about 7:55. Cheesehead and Pure Luck, meanwhile, had eaten leftover pizza from the night before. I ate a piece, too.
Just as I was about to eat the second piece, the phone rang again. Yes, I had three calls from the hospital in under two hours. This has never, ever happened before. Ever.
This was an actual death. I sped back to Vacationland Medical Center and spent the next hour with a wife and daughter and grandson and other family members grieving the sudden death of their "Papa."
After doing all the paperwork, I got home about 9:30.
I ate the other piece of pizza and settled in to watch Dawn French with Cheesehead.
She is a really good friend.
(The phone didn’t ring again.)