At the big hospital, I wear a badge and open doors magically, sweep into and out of locked units in the middle of the night.
At the smaller hospital, I stand outside the door to the Special Care Unit, puzzled. I ask a nurse how to get to Room 405? She points to a phone on the wall and tells me to call the nurse's station. A kind voice answers. I name the patient I hope to visit and identify myself as her pastor.
"I'll be out to get you in a few minutes," she answers. I wait patiently, trying to stay out of the way. At the nurses' station, people eat dinners brought up from the cafeteria. The unit clerk munches on popcorn and the delicious fragrance wafts toward me.
I see movement through the frosted glass of the Special Care Unit doors, but no one comes. I wait a bit longer. Finally the doors swing open, slowly. The kind nurse, dressed in a colorful patterned scrub top, greets me and tells me immediately that the visit must be short, as the patient is still dopey from anesthesia.
"I'm just here to say a prayer," I tell her.
(I remember talking my way into a Cardiac ICU room at the big hospital. The nurse did not want me to disturb the patient, a church member beloved not only by her family and friends but also by me. I won't disturb her, I said, I'll just stand in the corner and pray. And I did.)
This Special Care Unit differs vastly from the familiar clinical surroundings at the big hospital. The rooms are large and line a carpeted hallway. In the bed my new parishioner looks tinier even than she seems at church. I approach the bed carefully, looking over the wires and tubes to be sure I won't disarrange all that is being done to care for her. I wonder if she will rouse enough to know me, and then I wonder if it even matters.
I speak her name quietly, and one eye opens. I say my name and tell her I have come to pray. Her hand comes up and toward me, brushes away a tube sitting awkwardly on her face, then clasps my hand. At the Amen, her hand squeezes mine. I whisper that I will return tomorrow, and she squeezes once again.
We both have little hands we use to
make things; my busy hands knit shawls and her clever hands make beautiful coin rugs.
entwined, we made a prayer that spoke more than my words.