A LONG ROAD
By Paul Riddle
The call came late one weekday afternoon. On the other end of the line was a colleague, a staff chaplain in one of the hospitals in the Texas Medical Center. A patient had just been admitted for a major organ transplant, a tricky, high-risk procedure, and wanted a Church of Christ chaplain to come pray with him. Twenty minutes later I walked onto the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) and was met by my colleague, who introduced me to the patient, Marvin, and his wife, Jackie. (Names and certain details have been changed to protect patient privacy and confidentiality.)
Marvin, who was in his mid-50’s, had been sick for a long time, and this transplant was his last chance for survival. He and Jackie had temporarily relocated to Houston from another state and were staying in an apartment near the Medical Center while he waited for his transplant – an involuntary exile experienced by many patients who travel to Houston for treatment of serious medical conditions. I had never met them before.
My colleague introduced me to Marvin and Jackie, then left the room, closing the door gently behind her. Marvin told me about his illness, the many limitations it had increasingly imposed on him, and his hopes that this transplant would, as he put it, “give me my life back.” Jackie chimed in from time to time, adding a detail or affirming something Marvin had said. They had been married over thirty years, and their love for one another was evident in their body language, their tone of voice when speaking with one another, and in the loving looks they exchanged. Both were anxious, fully aware of the risks, yet ready for the transplant to take place. They talked, I listened, we prayed, they talked some more, I listened some more, and then I left, promising to stop by the next day, after the surgery had taken place.
When I stopped by the next day, Marvin was intubated and heavily sedated, normal for patients who had just had his type of surgery. Jackie was there, sitting quietly by his side. We talked for a few moments. The surgery had gone well, but the doctors had made it clear that Marvin’s recovery would be a long road. Jackie and I prayed together over Marvin, and I left.
The doctors’ prediction that Marvin’s road would be long was accurate. He remained in SICU for several weeks, receiving around-the-clock intensive care. Jackie spend a good bit of each day by his side. I visited them frequently. Sometimes Marvin was awake, many times he was sleeping. When he was awake, he was always glad to see me and always reached out for my hand. Many prayers were said in that room during Marvin’s stay.
At last the day came for Marvin to be discharged. Though he had made much progress, he still faced a long road. Arrangements had been made to transfer him to a rehabilitation center near his home. He and Jackie were both looking forward to being reunited with the family and friends from whom they had been separated for so long. I visited Marvin and Jackie one last time, we shared one final prayer together, and as I stood up to leave, Marvin took my hand. “You have no idea how much your visits have meant to us,” he said. “God bless you.” “Thank you. You all have touched my life as well. God be with you,” I replied, a tear coursing down my cheek.
Marvin’s journey of healing continues, now in a place closer to his home, closer to the company of those closest to him. I feel honored to have shared a part of his and Jackie’s journey during their sojourn in Houston. A part of him and Jackie remains with me, and I am thankful.