Posted in Stories

Behind the zipper

The symptoms were obvious and ominous. High temperature, coughing, a feeling of weakness. After a week of this, on-again, off-again, he decided he needed to go to the emergency room. My wife was working, so I grabbed a mask, hopped in the truck and headed down to pick him up.

He was ready to go when I got to the house. But he could barely stand up and walk. It’s was a good thing that we were going that night. Had we waited a day, things might have been much worse. Somehow, as I was gathering up hearing aids and a list of medications, he made it out and into the passenger side of my truck. Without his hearing aids, our conversation was limited. I called my wife, working in the ER that night, and told her we were on the way.

After I pulled up to the ER entrance, I walked around to the passenger side to help him out. He could barely stand, much less walk the twenty or so yards to the door. A tech by the entrance heard me say, “I’ll see if I can get a wheelchair” and brought one out. With some difficulty, we transferred him to the chair and got him inside. He had a few questions to answer, I got a visitor tag, and the guard handed me an N95 mask to wear, “If you’re going where I think you are going.”

They took him back right away while I parked the truck. I had to wait a bit before my wife came out and said, “Come on back.” We turned left and went down the hall to a part of the ER that was draped in plastic with zippered entrances, an isolation unit for suspected Covid-19 patients. My wife looked at me and said, “If you go back there, we probably won’t be able to go on our trip.” I said, “I know.” But he wouldn’t be able to hear and I couldn’t just let him go back there alone.

So that’s when I went… behind the zipper.

It wasn’t all that exciting. In fact, it was eerily quiet. Because fresh gowns, masks, face shields and gloves were required of the doctors, nurses and techs every time they came in the room, their appearances were few and far between. I sat there in shorts, t-shirt and an N95 mask, wondering when I would get sick. Had we gone one day later, I would not have been allowed back there. Policies and procedures are subject to change, like the wind.

I stayed for about six hours, as we waited for tests, test results and the decision to admit him. He didn’t want to watch TV, and was finally able to snooze a bit, so I spent my time reading on my phone and keeping family up-to-date. I called his out-of-state son so they could talk. Finally they were ready to take him to another room, and it was time for me to head home. No one was allowed back in that part of the hospital.

As I write this, that happened a full eight weeks ago, and thankfully neither my wife nor I had any symptoms of illness. We did spend a couple of weeks staying further apart from family, just in case. It turns out he only had to stay in the hospital a few nights, and was discharged home. His wife had to do the ER thing later in the week, but she wasn’t admitted.

We were blessed. I am still careful. People are still getting sick. So far I’ve stayed healthy. I don’t take that for granted. I just give thanks each day.

Posted in Ministry

Bless your nurse.

angry-patientWhen I went to visit M. in the hospital yesterday, her nurse was in the room, finishing up some charting and her sister sat nearby. As I walked into the room, M. said, “Hi, pastor.” The nurse immediately looked at her and said, “Now don’t you start cursing at him!”

I said, “She’s usually on her best behavior when I’m here.”

The nurse replied, “Then you’re not leaving!” Uh-oh. I can only imagine what that means. It must have been an interesting stay in the hospital for the patient, nurses and probably everyone else who’s stepped into the room!

It seems to me that the one person you want to be nice to is your nurse. The doctor might stop in for a moment, housekeeping might be in for a few minutes each day, and you can be sure someone come by in the middle of the night to draw blood. But the nurse is taking care of you for a whole shift, is the one you call when you need something, and advocates for you with the doctors.

I know how hard it is to be in the hospital. So does your nurse. Which is why you want to bless not curse your nurse!

Posted in Ministry

And one.


If I can, I try to meet members of the congregation when they check in at the hospital for surgery. Just to pray and be with them as they wait for their name to be called. Show up times are usually early in the morning, but I’m up early anyway, so I get to about 90%. I’ve been at the local hospital often enough lately that the receptionist commented today, “Oh, he’s here all the time.”

Now that the days are getting shorter but the time hasn’t changed yet, it’s dark, really dark when I arrive. The first wave of patients arrives about 6 am, so the place is already hopping by the time I arrive. Today, the family was there before me, already staged and ready. I immediately get to the prayer; you never know how quickly their name will be called. Then we have time to chat for a bit. Usually other family is there, so I get to meet and get to know them, too. Continue reading “And one.”

Posted in Grace, Ministry

How strong do you have to be?

About a week ago, I left early in the morning to meet someone at the hospital who was having surgery that day. As we sat down to talk and pray, she said, “I’m sorry for being such a wimp.” And I thought to myself, “Why do we feel like we must be strong all the time?” When you are about to have surgery and face some of the realities and unknowns of cancer, isn’t it OK to be scared, be weak, and cry? Of all times to feel vulnerable and mortal, this would seem to be one of the most appropriate.

Yet we don’t like to let on that we feel that way. It seems this is especially true of Christians. We’ve convinced ourselves that our faith means we will not be scared, we will not worry, and we will not feel weak. Even if we read numerous Psalms reminding us that God is our refuge and strength, we’d rather dig deep into our own resources rather than have to tap into his. It’s not easy to say that God is your strength and mean it, because it means you are weak, and probably a wimp, too. It’s OK to sing, “I am weak but he is strong” when you’re a kid, but not when you’re grown up.

The apostle Paul figured it out: “When I’m weak, then I’m strong.” Perhaps we need to learn how to be better wimps.

Posted in Ministry

In and out of the hospital

I just got back from visiting two of my members who are in the hospital. It’s unusual to have seen them four times; most hospital visits are very short. Thankfully, both are improving and should be home soon.

As I was driving home, I realized that in my get-togethers with my fellow pastors, both locally and denominational conferences, we don’t talk much about hospital and nursing home visits. We talk a lot about vision, attendance, programs, finances, buildings and staff. But we don’t say much about pastoral care. Is pastoral care still a prominent part of pastoral ministry today?

Reviewing one of my call documents, I see that the congregation authorizes and obligates me to, among other things, “visit the sick and the dying.” IOW, it’s part of my job description. This is no surprise to me, of course. It was modeled for me, I was taught to do it, and I’ve always assumed that hospital visits or visits to the sick at home would always be a regular part of my week. In my experience, these visits tend to come in bunches. There may be none for several weeks, then suddenly there are four or five people to visit. And then just as suddenly, everyone is back home and back on their feet again.

I generally enjoy going to the hospital, and always learn something new when I am there. After I return from a visit, I always ask my wife (a nurse practitioner) about what I saw and heard, and she teaches me something more about medicine. I am thankful that my mom (also a nurse) had me volunteer in a local hospital as a teenager. Because of that experience, I’ve never been uncomfortable in any part of a hospital. Plus, I get to see the healing power of God at work through doctors and nurses, treatments and medication, and spiritual care. It’s the same kind of thrill that those who witnessed Jesus’ healing miracles must have felt when someone could walk, see, hear, or speak again. When God’s at work, I don’t want to miss it.

So let me know if you’re in a nearby hospital. I’ll stop by.