I went to the Hospital Tuesday to visit a guy who was in our housing program. He had taken off from his place and been gone for a couple of months before returning and shortly thereafter suffering what seemed to be a series of small strokes. Being in his 70’s and already having some disabilities, we had been quite concerned and were trying to keep a close eye on him. He was found in his bed by his landlord and rushed to Hospital by ambulance.
When I saw him I was taken aback at how frail and skeletal he looked. He was a skinny guy to begin with but had lost significant weight since the last time I had seen him. I couldn’t help but run scenarios through my mind of what we could have done or not done or done differently. It probably didn’t make any difference in the end, but we seem to need to believe that our intentions have a greater impact than our actions, or maybe it’s just empathy and helplessness that drive our imaginations in those moments.
I talked to the nurse because he was in and out of sleep and didn’t seem very aware, so I didn’t want to startle him. After talking with the nurse though I returned to the room and, upon one of his wakings, said his name and asked if he was doing okay. He responded “Yep” without looking at me, and I asked him if he was just wanting to sleep to which he again replied “Yep”.
I turned off the light when I left. It only marginally darkened the hospital room, but maybe it helped a little bit, and after all the decisions made and not made on his behalf, all the actions I had taken and not, it’s funny that flipping a switch on the way out would seem of such importance to me.
I went back downstairs, noting how many people in the halls at the Royal Alex Hospital are the same people that frequent the halls of the Herb Jamieson, our Homeless Men’s shelter.
I stopped in at the social worker’s office and left a message for the worker on the floor to call me so I could give some background about our mutual client, and then walked further down the hall to the interfaith chapel. I’d never seen it before and I wandered in, maybe to explore and maybe just to sort out my thoughts and offer up a prayer.
I sat down in the second row from the back, not wanting to get too close to the front. There was a man there kneeling in front of the altar. He was leaning on the small table which held artificial Poinsettias and it wobbled just slightly. It seemed surreal that someone was being so given to religious devotion in a place explicitly designated not to one religion, but simply to religion in general. I wondered if he was bowing at the altar of God As an Idea, or he had turned this altar, in his mind, into an edifice for Jesus, or Yahweh, or Allah, or the Great Spirit. Or maybe he didn’t even care about any details except that this was a place to grasp at some hope that someone or something was paying attention and would possibly turn to him in this moment of surrender and listen to his pleas. Was he pleading for himself or for a loved one on some floor above us?
He was shabbily dressed and when he got up to leave I initially looked away and focused my attention on some object I was holding, before looking up as though I had not noticed that he was even there. I didn’t want him to feel as though he was being watched. I noticed that he too I recognized from the shelters.
The object I was holding was the slip the hospital receptionist had given me with my client’s room number on it. I had been holding it all this time as some sort of memento as I had tried to frame the experience in my mind. I got up and made my way out of the chapel, stopping briefly at an abandoned pair of shoes which revealed a man just around the corner, facing Mecca. As I left the hospital I considered keeping this slip of paper that I had kept looking to as though it would provide me some sort of code as to what this had all meant. I decided against it though. I’d remember this often enough without it; indeed more than I’d want to. I threw it in the garbage as I made my way to my car.
It was an unusually warm January day, and as I walked across the suspended pedway the sun coming through the glass felt good on my skin.