Few of us have the patience to tolerate the screaming fit of a child.
Perhaps that’s why the woman in our presurgery unit was so pleasantly surprised that her unlikely roommate was a very quiet infant.
“I’m just curious, that’s all” she said apologizing for asking a little too much about the seven-month-old infant.
“He’s so cute,” she gushed, “and so well mannered.”
“Well mannered?” I asked, looking at her through squinted eyes.
“Yes, he’s been poked all morning, yet he’s not let out a peep of protest.”
She paused, searching my expression for a clue. “But, I know you can’t tell me anything. I understand.”
“Really. I do.”
No, she didn’t. The more she said she understood, the more all hope of understanding departed from her.
The fact was that the baby, born premature, was having surgery because he couldn’t scream. He couldn’t cry. He couldn’t coo. He couldn’t sigh. It was his third surgery and each one was bringing him closer to the day he would voice a cry of praise which would be welcomed by all who loved him.
But in a room six floors up, there was a little boy who had enough lungpower for the two of them. With shrieks that drove his grandmother from the room, the boy had experienced a painful three years since his premature birth.
It was in an adjoining waiting room that I found his grandmother staring into the cloudless California afternoon as she cried torrents of tears.
“I’m the pediatric chaplain,” I said, stepping into the room.
“I know I should be in there with my grandson, but I couldn’t stand hearing….” She placed a hand over her mouth in an attempt to mask her own cries. The spiritual frequency being monitored by this loving grandmother was not only picking up the vocal screams, but also some silent screams as well.
“It’s fine,” I interrupted, “It must be hard to hear.”
“He’s had so many procedures that he can hardly stand to see anyone in a white coat. Right now they’re in there looking for another vein to poke.
But,” she added, casting a glance toward the quiet room opposite her grandson’s, “I guess I should be glad he can cry at all.”
“Yes,” I said nodding.
“I know you’re not supposed to talk about other patients,” she said with a halt to her voice, “but I’ve seen the news reports about the abused boy and can’t help but notice the detectives coming from that room.”
“I’ve seen them too,” I replied, nodding with a blank stare.
“The news said she did it because her son wouldn’t clean his room.”
I broke her gaze without responding – the new confidentiality laws very much on my mind.
My mind drifted, wondering who had heard the screams of this child as his mother beat him with a coat hanger? Who had their spiritual radar on for the pain that must have swelled that home until things exploded?
During the past 24 hours the staff had done everything they could to revive the cries of this child. The doctor pushed on his pressure points watching for some signs of wincing. The nurses tapped his reflex points praying for some sort of jerking. The surgeon shone her bright light into his eyes looking for some sign of flinching.
Nothing. No groans. No cries. No screams.
“Chaplain!” the grandmother called.
“Yes?” I answered, feeling more like screaming myself.
“He’s only five! How could anyone do that?”
I looked down.
I know, you can’t answer that,” she said with some understanding.
Then looking toward her grandson’s room, the grandmother simply said, “I think mine’s stopped screaming now. Do you think you might come in and say a prayer?”
There were too many things that afternoon that I had no answer for, but as I prayed, the words of the Psalmist came to mind, “Hear our prayer, O Lord, listen to our cry for help; be not deaf to our weeping.”