By Norris Burkes Mar 27, 2016
On a fall day in 2003, I’d worked an exhausting afternoon of uninterrupted trauma and drama in the Emergency Department of Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif. Just as I was getting ready to go home, the nurse manager directed me toward our trauma room where an elderly woman had just lost her boyfriend.
I presented myself to the woman, disrupting a one-way conversation she was having with the deceased figure of a 92-year-old man on the gurney. She introduced herself as “Gidget,” a nickname from a 1959 surfing movie starring Sandra Dee, and later a 1965 TV series with Sally Field.
If you don’t know the Gidget character, imagine someone who can babble nonstop like a teenager. Combine that thought with the image of a pretty girl surfing in a pair of Spanx.
Like the Gidget of Hollywood fame, she was chatting a mile-a-minute about her beloved boyfriend, whom she called “Moondoggie,” after the boyfriend in the Gidget movie.
With a roaring rush of words, she maintained the busy sound of loneliness, alternating her questions between “Is he really dead?” and “What am I going to do?”
Without giving me a chance to respond, she kept talking.
“I was just with him a few minutes ago,” she said, all the while rubbing the man’s hand. “I lay down to sleep for about 20 minutes and he was gone when I woke.” It felt like Gidget was trying to resuscitate her Moondoggie with her incessant stream of uninterrupted consciousness.
At some point, the ER supervisor signaled me to help Gidget find an ending because the hospital needed the room for an incoming trauma patient. Unfortunately, we couldn’t let the grief go on all night.
“Did a taxi bring you here tonight?” I asked.
Gidget got the hint. “Is it time to leave?”
I answered indirectly. “You have a lot to do tomorrow.”
A few minutes later we stood in the Emergency Bay, waiting for another taxi and Gidget continued her pinging monologue, like a submarine trying to echo-locate an ally.
Sadly, she wasn’t pinging on much – not even me.
I was swapping thoughts between caring for her and the incoming emergency. But somewhere in the fog of my mental meandering, I finally heard the echoes of her stories and her pings located me.
I placed the back of my hand gently on her cheek. Both her hands sprung up to enclose mine and caress my hand as if it were Moondoggie’s.
She whispered into our joined hands, “Your hand’s so warm.”
Suddenly, the incoming ambulance was pulling into the driveway.
“I guess other people need you, too.”
“Probably,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said.
Just then, her taxi driver appeared at the curb. We said quick goodbyes and Gidget abruptly disappeared safely inside his car.
I can’t tell you what happened to Gidget after that. That’s because working as a hospital chaplain is like trying to pastor a parade. I’m not always blessed with knowing patient outcomes or the impact I made.
But I did feel the impact Gidget had on me that night. I’d almost let the exhaustion of the day distract me from my purpose. But something brought me back to Gidget. I was there for her. I’d heard her words; I’d heard her heart. I took her hand and was taken by the exhaustive love she had for her Moondoggie.
On my way back into the ER, I paused a moment outside Moondoggie’s room and leaned inside, giving him a nod, as if to say, “That’s quite a gal you have there!”
This story is an exerpt from my book, “No Small Miracles.” Learn more at www.thechaplain.net
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