I quickly skimmed through the rest of his chart. Mr. Lopes was an elderly Haitian man, a recent immigrant, who had visited the local emergency room for a bad headache, only to discover that his blood pressure was astronomical. Apparently, Mr. Lopes and his family considered him too sturdy a man to be retained at the hospital overnight, labeled as sick. So he fled.
And here he was, weeks later, to meet his new doctor. “BP: 190/100” read the nurse’s note in red.
All through November he prayed, “Please God, help this pain, and please help me find out what is wrong so I can heal.”
Through December: “Please God, when I see the doctor, don’t let it be cancer. And I beg you to please help this pain.”
In January and February his prayer changed to, “Please God, let the chemotherapy and radiation work.”
I take a deep breath in and let it out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I wipe the sweat off my palms, adjust the newly-minted stethoscope draped around my neck and knock on the door.
A voice croaks, “Come in,” and I enter the room to find the patient on the chair. His eyes look tired.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
When I found myself alone with a family and their dying son, the familiarity and dependability of the Lord’s Prayer was the best I could muster. Not yet a family doc, I was a fresh seminary graduate, struggling as a chaplain to bring comfort in the face of impending grief. Familiar words, with which we could together come before the Almighty, seemed the best place to start.
She hadn't been able to talk for several days. I don't know what robbed my mom of her speech. Was morphine the culprit, with its ability to dull both mind and body? Did sheer exhaustion from laboring over each breath leave her too tired to talk? Or maybe her pain was so severe that she could not give voice to its intensity. But what she couldn't speak with words, she spoke with groanings.