From the Desk ofChaplain Susan HolkPeople's Community HospitalOmaha, NEDear Pastor Wilmer,As you may know, Al, a member of your congregation, has been checked into resident care here in our mental health facility. At the time of his check in he was not suffering from any physical problems other than some scraped skin on his neck. However, he has been asleep for almost 3 days straight and has refused anything to eat. Also, he will not meet with his doctor, take any medication, or do anything else necessary for his perscribed treatment.I have met with his wife, as she has come to visit him almost every day - only to be turned away. She mentioned that you have become a good friend to Al and have been spending a lot of time talking to him about life and spiritual issues.I am writing to you in the hopes that you might come to the hospital and visit Al and see if you can do anything to help him come around. If we cannot find a way to reach him soon, I'm afraid his doctors will have to take measures that may not be the best for him.If there is anything you can do, please let me know so I can put you on the visitor's list for his room.Sincerely,Susan Holk
The nurses, both surprisingly strong for their petite size, had thrown him, less than gently, into the cushioned arm chair. That was his first waking memory of the hospital. Seated across from him at a rather large wooden desk was a thin, stern looking man in a threadbare brown suit and mis-matched tie.
"Where am I?" was the only thought that crossed his mind. His head hurt like he'd been hit with a rather large hammer. The light was very bright and it was painful to keep his eyes open. His limbs felt weak and all he really wanted to do was go to sleep.
"Al....Al? Do you know where you are?", asked the man behind the desk.
Vague memories of police, an ambulance, and being strapped to a bed swam through his mind. He remembered falling, falling, or was that a dream? Where was he? How did he get here?
The past 8 years were..... what? What were they? The day of his wedding was pure bliss. The morning his first child was born was amazing. The evening he got the call from the hospital that his second child was born almost three months early was terrifying. His third, after supporting his wife through three days of painful labor, was exhausting. Through it all he did what he had to do to pay the rent and feed everyone.
Was he unhappy? He didn't think so. Yes, things were busy and tiring, but he loved his family. Sure, he ended up on a different path than he had dreamed about not too many years before, but family meant more to him than anything. Sure he had made some bad, and very lazy, career choices, but that's now what life is about, right?
College had to be left behind. From there it was one lost job after another. Then there was a business opportunity - that lasted 6 months. Then where was another opportunity, but that involved moving to Arizona, that never happened and they were stuck in the desert while he worked at Pizza House. Her family brought them home but that only led to more dead end jobs, more lost jobs, and finally a 30 mile commute for a low-paying managerial position in a mom-and-pops cafe. He didn't chose his career, he backed into it.
But that didn't mean he was unhappy, right?
"Al? You're at the hospital, do you know how you got here?", the man behind the desk seemed dis-interested, like this was the hundreth time he had done this today. It seemed all he wanted was to get his notes on the patient from room 452 and go get some coffee.
Al yawned. He scratched absently at his neck. He felt something wet. He pulled his fingers away to see blood.
"Be careful, that's the spot they had to cut the rope off, looks like they cut you with the knife when they did."
Rope? The police. The ambulance. Was there a scream echoing in his ear? Trying to remember was like trying to catch smoke with his hand. Why was he here?
The stern, tired, man behind the desk sighed deeply. "If you're not going to talk to me, I guess you can go back to your room." The petite nurses returned, lifted him out of the chair and basically drug him to his room.
"Al, do you know where you are?" He was seated across from the stern man again. Wait. How? He was back in his bed just a moment ago.
"You haven't eaten in 6 days, the nurses put an IV in your arm just to keep you from dehydrating, and you haven't had a bath or shower since you got here. So, how long are you going to keep this up? How long before we start working on sending you home?" The stern man was now angry, practically yelling at him.
"What are you talking about?" Al tried to say. His throat was so dry talking was painful. In fact the words seemed difficult to form in his mind, let alone express them.
"Fine, go back to your room". The super-strong nurses, the rough handling, the slamming into the bed, the reattaching of the IV.
This time, instead of fading back to sleep he laid there and stared at the ceiling. Hospital. Ok, he got that much. But how did he get here?
He remembered the dream, the falling, then suddenly it all came back.
As he fell back on the bed with the belt around his neck, his consciousness was fading, like falling asleep and he was drifting away. At what was probably the last minute, his wife came in after dropping the kids off at school after their paper route. That was the screaming. Everything after that was fuzzy, blurry, snippets of what may have been a dream. The police were there, and the paramedics. He felt more than remembered the ambulance ride into the city. When he got to the hospital they took his shoes and his clothes and anything else that he could even remotely hurt himself with.
He drifted back to sleep. Three more days, six more. More visits with the stern man, who he now understood to be the staff psychiatrist on the suicide watch floor. He didn't know how long he had been there before he got a different visitor than the psychiatrist.
She introduced herself as the hospital chaplain. Later he wouldn't remember anything she said or anything they talked about, but something about her, something about her concern. Unlike the stern doctor, she seemed really interested in whether he got better or not.
Two weeks later, he was seated next to his wife in the car on the way home. He had finally talked to the psychiatrist. He went to the group meetings and did all the new-agey exercises they had asked him to do, but more than any of that, he began to pray.
Years later, he wouldn't really remember the doctors, the counselors, he wouldn't even really remember the chaplain. But something had changed while he was there.
He had learned to swim. And not only was he swimming to the surface, escaping the abyss, he was swimming against the current.... swimming toward hope...
And back home.