The hiss and steady, low thumping of machines assaulted the hallway air. White uniformed men and women, occasionally one in a black smock and pants, cruised throughout. What type of shoes do they wear? They make no noise except for an occasional squeak when they stop abruptly.
One figure stood out. The black outfit with the white collar told it all. “We don’t often get many of our kind in here,” he said almost gleefully. Not one to push back from a table, the man in black waddled to the bedside.
“I read your name on the roster and saw that you were one of us, so I came to comfort you in your time of need.”
Did I want to pray with him now or should he offer prayers for me tomorrow morning?
Feeling a bit off-kilter thanks to the meds I’d been given to relax and sleep, I murmured, “Tomorrow will be fine. Thank you, very much.” The etiquette lessons taught instead of science so long ago kicked in without a thought. Did I want prayers? Did I need prayers? I doubted it, but they were being freely offered, so what the hell, fire away, dear man, fire away.
“Oh, don’t thank me. I want to do this for you.” In truth he eagerly sought anyone to pray for in this particular hospital and here was one candidate. The delight he felt at being released from his stuffy office downstairs was difficult to contain. He so wanted to sit and comfort this patient and coax her to pray with him.
“I have rosary beads. Would you prefer we say the rosary?”
Even dinner would have to wait tonight. The thought of luscious chicken, shining gravy dripping all over it, the special vegetables that the cook had prepared for him and the exquisitely, delightful and frothy rich dessert that was now sitting in the refrigerator were almost too much to resist, but he must resist.
How often would one of his kind be here on the surgical floor and require his care? It was his sworn duty, the duty he accepted over 40 years ago when he lay before the altar and the sacrament was upon him. No, he could not allow himself the delights of the dinner table.
Yes, it would be a sacrifice, but he must make it and, perhaps, it would be to his benefit in the afterlife, if he undertook this latest charge.
Lying there in the bed, looking at this plump man almost bouncing with happiness who was offering to pray for my safe delivery from surgery was something I didn’t want to think about, but he was here.
What could I do with him now to get him to leave? If he left, I could quickly dispatch my own small dinner tray, turn on the TV and then drift quietly off to sleep until the morning.
He couldn’t possibly understand my conflict with etiquette and annoyance. How could he? He lived most of his life in an extremely cloistered existence, but he did enjoy a number of pleasures bestowed upon him by wealthy patients who appreciated his good services.
I knew these men from childhood. They had the most expensive stereo equipment in the area, a fairly nice car that was given to them and they were whisked away to ultra-chic vacation homes in the Hamptons with only the slightest hint that they would enjoy a bit of time away from the hospital.
Not only did this man have patients who wished to curry favor because they felt he had special intervention with God, he also had a small terrier dog. But no dogs allowed in the hospital. “Well, I’ll be leaving now,” he uttered almost like a child who wouldn’t get his wish; “I’ll be praying for you.” Turning, he left and waved a final goodbye at the doorway with the small metal container affixed to the side of it.
A nurse came walking in.
“Okay,” the nurse announced, “Tomorrow you’re all set for your blepharoplasty, the eyelid lift you wanted.”
Well, who knows, maybe eyelid lifts need prayers, too.
Farrell is a clinical psychologist living on the East Coast of the US, has written self-help books for McGraw-Hill, Demos Health, and Amazon KDP, contributes to several publications on Medium.com, served as a consultant for WebMD and for major PR agencies.