Casey’s Introduction: Melinda Bay and I grew up a few houses from one another on Greenview Rd. in Itasca, Illinois. She was a year ahead of me in school. As I did with all of my childhood friends, I lost touch with Melinda after my father’s death and our bailout from Itasca back to California. Recently we became friends on FB and she reached out to me after reading my post of Chris Ramirez’s story I’m Christian.
She said she had become a pastor at the church we both attended in Itasca, and also served as chaplain at a couple of hospitals in Chicago. As chaplain she has witnessed remarkable things happen over the years similar to those shared in I’m Christian. Chris’s story motivated her to write down her stories. Here is the first one. John and Ben’s story, in a word, is completely, utterly, amazing. Trust me, you too will forget how to count after you read this. Melinda indeed wrote something beautiful.
Patient: John – 27 years old, single, working on building his own architecture business
Room: ER/Intensive Care/ a Chicago hospital
Situation: Motorcycle accident
My job: Chaplain, evening shift
John was brought to the ER around 10PM. While riding his motorcycle he had been hit by a car that ran a stop sign. He was unconscious when he came into the ER but gained partial consciousness soon after. When I arrived he was not able to answer any questions. I found his parents’ phone number on his cell and called them. I briefly explained the situation, asked them pertinent questions and requested that they come to the hospital. They arrived within 30 minutes. John knew they were there but could not communicate other than with hand squeezes.
After multiple tests John was transferred to Intensive Care. Minutes later he coded. After the Doctors were able to regain a heartbeat he was intubated and sedated. His parents said John was not married and was an only child.
The major concerns for the Doctors were that John was not stable enough for surgery to stop internal bleeding in his brain. An MRI also revealed two pre-existing brain tumors which the neurosurgeons were quite sure were malignant.
After 24 hours of decision-making agony and countless meetings with multiple Doctors, surgery was performed and a drain was inserted to relieve pressure on his brain. John’s sedation was slightly reduced in hopes of having the slightest chance of communication with him. A few hours later John was able to communicate by hand squeezes and soon after in whispers.
Later that day John and his parents were updated by his Doctors on his multiple medical conditions. They were at that time also advised by the Cardiologist that John had a heart condition and they would need to think about cardiac surgery as soon as he was strong enough.
My shift started at 3 PM and I was immediately called to be with John’s parents who updated me on the briefing. They were very much aware of the seriousness of John’s condition. John was stable and I encouraged them to go home and get some rest which they reluctantly did. I promised to frequently check on John and the staff promised to call them if there were any changes in his condition.
I checked on John several times that evening. We talked a bit when he was awake and during one visit he admitted that he had known about the brain tumors and had given his neurologist’s name to his nurse. He also advised me that he had completed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form that evening with his current neuro-surgeon. He said that he just could not do that when his parents were there. He would talk to them about it when they returned tomorrow.
Before the end of my shift I checked in on John once again, but he had a visitor with him. So, I just asked if he needed anything, waved to them and said good night and that I’d see him tomorrow. I saw his nurse and asked her if she had seen John’s visitor. She said that she knew he had a visitor, thought that perhaps his parents had called a friend of his and she didn’t want to interrupt them. She did say, and I agreed, that the flannel shirt he was wearing was kind of odd for this time of year—it was July and hot. But we see lots of “interesting” outfits in ER and ICU and didn’t think much of it.
When I arrived the following afternoon, there was a big note on my desk asking me to come to ICU immediately! John’s parents were there but John had been sleeping all day, so they had not been able to talk with him. They told me that morning they received a phone call from friends in Wisconsin saying that the previous day their son, Ben, was killed in a logging accident. They said that John and Ben were best friends since they were little and that they were planning to go into business together with Ben supplying the lumber and John being the architect for log homes in northern Wisconsin near where Ben lived.
John’s parents were afraid to tell him about Ben’s death not knowing how he would respond. I encouraged them to talk about their thoughts while at the same time my brain was spinning. Their phone rang which thankfully gave me a chance to check on John and talk to his nurse. I advised her of the conversation with John’s parents. I called John’s nurse from the previous evening—which I almost never do—and asked her if she had seen again or talked to John’s visitor from last night. She said ‘no’ but that John had referred to him as “my friend Ben.” She said that in a restless sleep John had mentioned his friend’s name a few times. She also said that they had given him additional medication to try to calm him. I thanked her and hung up.
While I was on the phone the nurse advised me that John was starting to wake up and that his parents were in his room. I said a quick “guide me please” prayer and went into the room. His parents, Mom on the floor and Dad half on a chair, were speechless. I called for help. While they were both being checked out by a nurse and the IC doctor, I tried to talk to John. He was barely coherent but was able to say enough that “yes” it was his friend Ben who visited last night and that he already knew that Ben had died. His parents had asked him who the visitor was, saying that they had been too tired to call any of John’s friends. When John said it was Ben they both collapsed.
I was holding John’s hand and he squeezed it tightly and, as I leaned in to hear him, he barely whispered the words “Do you believe me?” All I said was “Yes.” His grip and his whole body relaxed. He looked at his parents and then back at me as if to say “Help them.” I patted his hand and went to his parents. His mother was feverously digging in her purse and pulled a picture out of her wallet of John and Ben. I braced myself already knowing what I would see. It was a picture of John in a suit and Ben in a flannel shirt. It was a recent picture taken to use on their business cards and brochures. When I looked up from the picture I didn’t have to say anything. John’s visitor last night was Ben.
I called his previous night’s nurse one more time. She agreed to look at John and Ben’s picture which I e-mailed to her. She confirmed that it was Ben she saw the night before. I briefed the night chaplain who began to care for John’s parents while I sat with John who said Ben’s name a couple of times and a bit later whispered to me “I have to go.” He did not want his parents to come back into the room. It would be harder to let go with them there. I asked if he would like me to stay. He whispered, “No. I’m not alone.” I told him I understood and offered a brief prayer.
John’s parents did get to be with him one more time. I encouraged them to talk to him about whatever was in their hearts. He never responded but they told the night chaplain that they knew he heard them. John died that night in a peaceful passing.
[Note: For privacy actual names have not been used and the photos are stock and not of the actual persons in the story]