Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hands in Prayer

Hands in Prayer
                                                                 Story by John Miller

“Hey, I was asleep! Turn that light out and be quiet! “Frank complained. The middle-aged businessman, in his 2nd day of recovery from hip surgery had quickly earned his reputation as a nuisance. He constantly griped and complained to the nurses that he frequently called to his bedside. The nurse’s ward had soon chosen to ignore the persistent”buzzing” from the patient nicknamed “Bed “B.”

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Parks. It’s about 2:00 am. We will be only a few moments and, yes, we need the light on,” replied one nurse. They worked efficiently and quickly to settle the new patient into bed “A.” One nurse wrote the new patient’s name and a few vitals on the white board opposite his bed.

 “Bill Morris,” so that’s this guy’s name,” Frank noted to himself. “I wonder what’s wrong with him. I sure hope he’s not contagious.” The nurses didn’t respond as they left the room in darkness again.  Frank turned, away hoping to fall asleep. It wasn’t long before Bill’s deep and prolonged moaning woke Frank. “Buzz! Buzz!” His unanswered ringing continued until Frank fell asleep to the incessant nearby moans from bed “A.”

This was Bill’s third hospitalization in weeks. His badly failing heart had landed him in the hospital. The paramedics who had brought him to Emergency early this morning didn’t expect him to come out alive. He had overheard the ER doctor telling his nurse that he had only days to live. Bill almost welcomed death. Life wasn’t worth living but the uncertainty of an afterlife gripped him in lonely fear.  No one in ER looked at Bill’s face except to check the dilatation of his pupils. A constant drool from his quivering lips was ignored; no one saw his mental agony. Morphine was administered and the old patient had been moved to room 104.

The 6:00 am rounds brought the usual traffic of nurses shuffling and talking loudly wakened Frank. The annoying light didn’t help the complainer. He heard unintelligible, weak murmurings from his new room mate. A nurse attending to Bill had opened his privacy curtain to place monitoring equipment at his bedside. Frank leaned up to see a thin, frail figure of a very old man. “What’s wrong with him? He moaned all night!” Didn’t you hear me buzzing you?” Frank protested. “The doctor will see him later today,” was the nurse’s only reply. She pulled the privacy curtain into place as she continued her work on the old man.

“Mr. Morris, I can’t understand you, please speak louder,” Nurse Denton asked. The old man seemed desperate to tell her something but his voice was nothing more than a broken, chattering whisper.  He raised his trembling, bony arms, only to have them fall sharply onto the bed rails. “You’re too weak to swing your arms,” the nurse commented. “Now, you don’t want to bruise your arm and tear your skin or we will have to restrain you.” Bill’s frail fingers grabbed at the cold railing as he pointed an age- bent finger to the ceiling. His gesture went unnoticed, as did his quivering lips. His nurse left to continue her rounds and missed what would be one of Bill’s fleeting moments of lucidity. He wanted someone to listen to him but knew the disappointing experience of abandonment only too well. The old man had spent six years in convalescent homes after a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed. His weak voice was compromised by his badly-slurred speech. By age 75, he had come to know an aching, endless loneliness. The uncaring, dismissive looks of his busy attendants in the home were matched by the hospital staff. Their endless duty was mechanical. Self preservation necessitated that their hearts were detached from such aged patients. Bill’s mind wandered and reality blurred with insanity

The old man’s lucid moments had become brief and were fewer every day. They were a blessing at first, when he could recall memories his wife and family but had become cursed by his rambling, confused and childlike thoughts. He strained to put names to familiar faces that haunted his days. More often than not he got them wrong. No visitors had come for several years, especially after his wife Mary has passed away. Now, his lucid moments brought only mental anguish and anxiety, as he fought to recall his name; his past life. Images of tedious, hard work in home construction invaded his fading mind. Had he been a building contractor or laborer?  His tough, worn and knurled hands were now feeble and trembled badly.  Cursing had been a routine habit at work and his bad temper had isolated him from any true friendships. So, Bill found a friend in the whiskey bottle that for years kept him from his wife and kids. Now, advanced heart disease, terrible chest pain, fever and dehydration were his only friends. They never left him.

The noon meal traffic awakened Bill to rare, lucid moments. “Where am I?” He wondered. The hospital sounds seemed familiar to him. “I’m going to die soon, alone in a hospital.”  He knew his fate. Death was imminent. The TV blared with indistinguishable noises in Bill’s failing ears. Frank ignored the old man’s incoherent murmurings.

“Have I ever known God?”  Bill wondered. Church had not been important to him, although his wife, Mary, had often pleaded with him to go to Sunday service with her. She had worshiped her God, and alone had borne the responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of his four children. Bill’s god had been his work and money and in past years, the bottle. These gods were all gone now. His home and possessions had been sold to fund his extended care in a crowded, smelly home. His meager living accommodations at the home consisted of a twin bed, nightstand, closet, wheelchair and wet diapers.  Bill’s fading pride allowed a stranger’s hands to clean and diaper him but disallowed any pleasure in his surroundings.  There were no visitors.

His ungrateful, seemingly pouting manner with his sons and daughters had driven them away from the old man, years ago. His only communication with them came about through infrequent calls in which he stuttered indiscernibly and scrambled his responses to the few words he could only faintly hear. The deadly silence from both ends of the phone call spoke volumes about his fading worth to his family. He had often slammed the phone receiver down in frustration, so the calls ceased over time.  The eventuality of his remaining fate was cast in the stone-like, frail faces of his aged neighbors, slumped over in wheel chairs parked along the hallways.  His days were numbered and he realized that he would eventually die alone in the hospital. His mind turned to death. That had seemed a long time off for so many years. Now death was at his door. What was going to happen? Who cared? Where was he going when he died? Would he ever see Mary, his wife again?  Had he missed out on salvation, as Mary had so often encouraged him to consider? Was he at hell’s door? He knew nothing about God; nothing about prayer.

“Mary often told me to talk to God,” Bill said to himself. “God will listen if you will just seek His mercy,” she had said. “Was there any point in trying to reach out for God now,” Bill wondered. “Why would he take me to be in heaven with him after all my years of ignoring him, after all the bad things I’ve done?” Bill’s weak eyes looked at his thin and trembling hands. “Mary used to fold her hands in prayer,” he recalled. “She’d pray in silence while I watched TV or read the paper, he recalled.”

For a long while, he looked at his old hands, turning the palms up and over. “These old, worn out hands worked hard for me,” he thought. Mary had said that his hands were God’s gift so that he could provide for his family. “She would praise God for my hands,” he remembered. It seemed silly to him at the time.  “Maybe they are my connection with God,” Bill thought, “maybe I can just pray with them? I don’t know the words to say.”

“God, are you watching,” he asked. I’m going to pray with my hands. I don’t speak too well but you know what I’m doing, don’t you?”

As lunch was served, the attendant left the privacy curtain partly open, so that Frank could see the old man in Bed “A.” He looked up from his own tray to see the old man’s trembling hands turned up and slightly raised, moving in various gestures. “What are you doing, old man?” Frank inquired. There was no answer from Bill. “You better try to eat something,” Frank said. “Are you going to drink that juice?”  Bill wasn’t listening. His weary, drawn eyes were fixed on his feeble hands. “The old fool can’t hear or he’s just loony,” Frank thought as he continued to watch the old man’s antics. “I’ll get his juice when the nurse comes in.”

Bill’s bony arms soon tired of lifting his hands and they fell to his side, just missing his lunch tray. “God, do you seen me showing you my hands?” He asked in a slurred, indistinguishable whisper. “They are calloused from working all those years and my fingernails are all busted from hammers. My knuckles are scarred from saw blades and wood splinters,” he added. “But I’m supposed to thank you, Mary told me.” “Thank you for my good hands, Lord. Is that OK? These old hands did all that you asked me to do to make a living. They got hurt plenty but never wore out. Did you hear me, Lord?” Bill folded his hands like a child in prayer and brought them near his jutting chin, where they trembled badly. “Lord, I feel like you might be listening,” he murmured. His fingers felt his straggly whiskers and stroked his sagging skin. “Lord, I’m old but you know that,” Bill whispered, as tears fell on is cheeks. He made a fist and looked at it. “God, you saw me use my hands to fight some guys on the job when I was drinking. I suppose you don’t like that. I’m sorry, God. No more fists.” Pain overtook Bill’s lucid moment and his mind faded. His incessant, deep moaning was quickly followed by buzzing from Bed “B.”

The lunch trays were taken away and a small amount of Morphine was again administered to the old man. His moaning ceased when sleep overtook him. “Finally! Frank remarked to the nurse, "that crazy old man is quiet.”I had to turn up the TV just to drown out his annoying moans.” The nurse quickly left the room before Frank could ask for Bill’s juice. “Buzz!”

About 5 PM, a nurse came to Bill’s bedside. “Wake up Mr. Morris, the doctor will be in to see you in a while,” she said. She shook the old man until he showed signs of waking. From his near-death stupor, Bill tried to speak but uttered only incoherent sounds. “No need to fuss, Mr. Morris,” she added,” just relax, we have you on fluids because you were badly dehydrated,” she added. Bill tried to reach her as she pulled away. His left arm fell on the bed rail, tearing his thin, aged skin. “Oh, now we’re going to have to bandage that wound,” the nurse protested. “You must not lift your arms so high. You’re too weak, Mr. Morris.” She won’t listen to me,” Bill protested to himself; no one listens!” Dressing his wound, she said “I’ll leave your curtain open so that you can see the clouds. Maybe that will brighten your day.”

Frank complained,” are you going to leave that curtain open all day? That old man can’t see my bed, let along anything outside the window!” His words were wasted on the back of the departing nurse. “Buzz!”

“God, are you still there? Bill murmured. “I slept a while, I guess.” He returned to his hands of prayer. “What can I do to pray with my hands, Lord?” he asked.  “Did I fold them right for prayer? Should I rest them on my chest,” Mary sometimes prayed aloud, with her hands folded on her chest. Was that OK with you, Lord?” “Do you know what the doctor is going to tell me today?”  “Lord, I’m too old for much fussing in hospitals. My pain is so hard. Can I just go home with you?” he asked. “Mary often said that you were merciful, is that true? Will you show me mercy and forgive me my sins?” he asked. Saying that, Bill wrenched his bony hands together in mental anguish. “I’ve sinned plenty and I’m sorry, God. “Oh, I remember as a child, hearing about Jesus on the Cross. Was he really your son? Did he really die for the sins of man? Did he take a thief to heaven with him, as Mary told me? Lord, I never read the Bible. Mary often told me that she believed in Jesus’ finished work on the cross to save sinners who were sorry for their sins against you. Is that what I’m supposed to do now? Believe? I want to. God, can you help me believe in your Son, Jesus? God, can you see my hands praying?” Bill lifted his thin, tired arms higher than he had in days. “Is it too late for me, Lord?” Bill pleaded, as he twisted his wrists and flailed his arms wildly, moaning aloud. 

 “Hey, old fella, you’re going to hurt yourself again, Frank told him. Bill didn’t respond but continued to flail his arms. Frank buzzed for the nurse. For once, she immediately responded. “What do you need, Mr. Parks? She asked over the speaker at Frank’s bedside.  “I don’t need anything but the old man is hurting himself again. He’s really banging his arms on the bedrail. You better come take a look.”

“Mr. Morris, we can’t have you injuring your arms,” the attending nurse said, “I’m going to place them in restraints to protect you.” Bill’s wrists were tied close at his sides, just inches from the bedrails. Tears streamed from his milky-gray eyes and his lips chattered as he tried to plead for release. His voice was indiscernible to the nurse who busily went about her duty. Bill moaned loudly from deep within; his apparent means of fervent prayer now taken from him, “God, did you see me praying? What am I going to do now?” He moaned loudly, until his voice sank to a chattering, crying murmur.

“Hush, old man, and try to get some sleep,” Frank remarked. “You’ll be OK.  “Besides, when the doctor comes in, he’ll probably take you out of the restraints. “You got any family?”

Bill thought he felt the soft brush of an angel’s wings, as his mind drifted away. He did not answer Frank.

Sometime later, the doctor arrived to examine Bill. “Mr. Morris, wake up, Mr. Morris” the doctor prodded the old man, and taking his pulse, found none. Bill had gone home.

In the heavenly realms, Dimas, the Thief on the Cross smiled knowingly and joined the heavenly host of angels in joyful songs of praise to the One True God of 2nd Chances.


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