It is 4:48am when the phone goes off. I must change that ring tone. A phone call from Switchboard asking me to come to one of our hospitals. I don’t know what you are like at that time in the morning but I remember my own name just about. “David Southall” I say, and then they put me through to a Staff Nurse. A patient is reaching the end of his journey, can I come in.
I get things together and within half an hour I am here. I realise in my haste that I have forgotton my uniform. No dog collar to show I’m the religious bloke. Just a t-shirt and jumper. Cursing my stupidity I head up to the ward.
And there he is. Surrounded by family. My non-uniform fades into a memory in the face of this man and his family.
He has had some sort of bleeding from his lungs and is now breating erratically and noisily. The family, like any would be, are in shock and distress; and tears are flowing. Wife, sons and daughters and partners, grandkids. All called in like me in the early hours; all waiting. Wondering what the future would hold.
This man and his wife are people of faith. They want some prayers; informal but meaningful. And so we pray together. Pray that God would help him and them. That he would be at peace. That those surrounding him with love might know some comfort and love. Words, however, seem meaningless at times like this.
I, like them (and the nursing staff I guess), feel helpless. Wishing I can do something to change the situation. Make it different. Less bad. But I can’t. No one can.
I stay and listen to the story of this man. Of his faith. I make cups of tea; serving them in the only practical way I know how. Assuring them of my prayers and thoughts, and that I am on call for the rest of the day (and to call me again if they wish), I leave them.
And now it’s 6:24am. I can go home whilst they are stil there, waiting and wondering. Maybe get a couple of hours sleep whilst they keep vigil. Life sucks at times. But at least I could be with them, human to human. The privilege of sharing a sacred space in the difficult situations with people I hadn’t known before.It’s what I do.