You’d better not get sick!

We’re sitting across from each other in the ICU Waiting Room after standing at the bedside of our dear friend Phil. Phil and I are old classmates and getting older at age 73.

Kay’s face is solemn. Sad. Pensive. Her brow is furrowed, the way it gets when someone she loves is in trouble. She goes deep inside,  dives down into the darkness to draw wisdom and courage, and comes back up and out when she’s ready.

She says something I can’t hear. I shake my head. She’s says it again quietly, I suppose, because there are other people in the Waiting Room. My inability to hear only serves to underscore the reality of our getting old.

After several more failed attempts to hear her, I walk over to her chair.

You’d better not get sick!” she says.

I tell her I won’t because, unlike our formerly fit-as-a-fiddle racquet ball player friend Phil in the ICU, I don’t believe in exercise. “Exercise is bad for your health,” I’ve said a 1,000 times to Kay’s dismay. I’m more like Barclay, also in the Waiting Room, who, like Phil, looks fit-as-a-fiddle. (This is NOT the canine with the same name who’s waiting in the car in the hospital parking ramp.)

“Barclay, do you exercise?” Barclay’s head recoils like a boxer dodging a stiff jab, his eyes squint, his face grimaces at the thought. He slowly raises his right hand as if holding a spoon, opens his mouth, and shoves whatever’s in the spoon into his open mouth. “Ice cream?” I ask. “Doughnuts,” he says. “What kind?” “Chocolate.” “What brand?” “Doesn’t matter. Any kind. Doughnuts!”

Whether our form of exercise is eating doughnuts, playing racquet ball or working out at a gym, we’re all going to get sick. Some sooner, some later. It’s one of two things every mortal shares in common with every other mortal: we are born and we “get sick” (i.e., we die).

“You’d better not get sick!” we say with a smile. In the meantime we give thanks for today and tonight, the comic relief of the doughnuts, and the opportunity to love each other as we pray and wait for Phil’s recovery in the ICU.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 13, 2015

The Waiting Room

The surgery went “as well as could be expected” after two months of undiagnosed illness, but Sepsis is taking over his body, threatening his survival. The next two hours are critical.

His loved ones and friends are gathered in the ICU Waiting Room at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

Several hours earlier, I had observed six Muslim men praying the evening prayer at sundown at the far side of the Waiting Room. Oromo (Ethiopia) men had prayed the evening prayers at sundown, off to the far side of the large Waiting Room.

The men from Orono (Ethiopia), whom I had assumed to be Somali, are now gathered in chairs in the center of the Waiting Room, talking among themselves in Oromo.

When I approach them, intruding into their space, they recognize my presence. They stop talking. “Salaam,” I say. “Salaam,” they respond as if with a single voice and smile. “My friend is very sick. The next two hours are critical. I ask your prayers. His name is Phil.”

They respond as one would expect compassionate people to respond. “We will pray for him.”

I return to the small family area where my fellow Christians are gathered. I tell them the Muslims are praying for Phil. They’re pleased. We chat. Phil and Faith’s pastor eventually leads us in a Christian prayer.

Muslim prayer visitors

Muslim prayer visitors

An hour or so later three of the Oromo men come to our little room. They have come to tell us they have finished their prayers for Phil.

The voices and eyes of the men, led by their Imam, are kind, pastoral, as we say in the church. Full of compassion and concern for us. They have prayed in Arabic a Muslim prayer for healing on behalf of a stranger about whom they know nothing but his need:

“Remove the harm, O Lord of humankind and heal [Phil], for You are the Healer and there is no healing except Your healing, with a healing which does not leave any disease behind.” [narrated into English by al-Bukhaar]

Sometimes we have no choice but to wait. The Muslims from Oromo are waiting with us actively. Would that we all would wait so kindly, so patiently, so actively, and so wisely.

For a split second, I imagine the world as a Waiting Room.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Abbott-Northwester Hospital, Minneapolis, MN, June 12, 2015