May 30, 2024
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May 30, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

My name is Jack. I have been in this hospital way too long. The days seem to blend into one. There is too much time to lie in bed, stare at the bare, white walls and think. There is nothing to watch on TV. I just stare at the clock and pray to God to help me make the time pass. I wait every day for the doctor to come in and deliver me news as to when I can get out of here, but it seems like things are just not working out in my favor. The cancer seems to have spread, my heart is causing me to have breathing complications and I seem to keep getting infections. My body is deteriorating little by little.

I get so lonely here. I am envious of others who get visitors. A man of my age, 88, does not have too many friends left. My beautiful wife whom I was married to for 62 years is now in a nursing home. How it broke my heart when I moved her there a couple of years ago. She was diagnosed with dementia and I found it extremely difficult to give her the proper care she needed. I miss her so much. I think about her all the time, but I know she is being attended to and is in a safe place. My son and daughter-in-law come to see me twice a week; I know they have their own lives and are busy with their work. I wish they were able to visit me more. Though my son and I differ on many things, I would really appreciate his company right now. I don’t tell him this. I don’t want to add pressure to his busy life. So, as I said, I have a lot of time to think of my life and what I know very soon will be my death.

The chaplain comes into my room twice a week to see me. I tell her she is God sent. I often can’t help but to cry to her. I share with her my feelings of hopelessness, frustration and isolation. She sits with me, sometimes holds my hand and listens to my story compassionately, without judgment. I share with her special moments from my wonderful marriage. I love to reflect on those wonderful memories. I confide to her my feelings on my relationship with God. I share with her my hopes and all of my fears on death. She discussed with me the importance of filling out an advance directive so that when the time comes, my needs and desires will be met. After I did that, I actually felt very relieved and less anxious about what will happen to me at the end of my life. In light of my imminent death, I have also shared with the chaplain my feelings on life. I tell the chaplain of how much I have always felt that every day is a blessing and that one should live life to the fullest. But now, to be honest, finding and remembering the meaning to my life is more of a struggle and challenge. It feels so comforting to speak with someone who truly takes the time to listen to me and is not afraid to hear what I have to say. I feel less isolated after our chats and I feel like a load has been lifted from my chest.

Some of the health care professionals here barely make eye contact with me. They come into my room for less than five minutes and they rarely sit down. I understand they have so many patients to see but I really feel like I am just another name on their list. Sometimes they talk with these really complicated, medical terms and I don’t understand what they are saying. I feel stupid telling them I did not understand and feel uncomfortable asking them to repeat themselves. I hear myself being referred to as “Bed #2” and I feel like screaming out—

“My name is Jack! My name is Jack! I might be old and I might have a disease, but I am a person. I am a person who lived a full, vibrant life and who still has so much to share with you. When you walk into my room please try to remember that I am a mind, body and spirit. I am not just a disease. I feel that you are not speaking with me and asking me what my goals are and what matters to me. I am sure that you have seen my disease countless times, but you have never met me. The pain I am experiencing now is not only physical and if only you would spend a few moments with me you would understand that. If only you knew how much I need you right now. I value your medical expertise, your opinion and our relationship. I need your complete honesty, sincerity and compassion. If only you realized how every word you speak I try to analyze and understand. The words you use have the power to comfort and reassure me even in the darkest of times. I need you at this time in my life and I value our relationship.”

Of course, I do not voice this. This too stays inside me.

As each day passes by, I struggle hard to maintain my faith, hope and optimism. I believe deep in my heart that God has a plan for me. I really do.

Here in the hospital, I have my “up” days and my “down” days. I think that is normal. After all, I am only human. I am Jack.

Debby Pfeiffer is a hospital chaplain.

By Debby Pfeiffer

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