by David Russell
The light on my 2011 Lexus started flashing as I was backing out of my garage to head to tend to a matter on the pediatric floor at the Children’s Hospital. I’d known about the recall on the curtain airbag shield but put it off due to work. See, my residency started last fall, and it still felt like a rhythm needed to be established. I’d only been there five months, so I couldn’t take off to have my car repaired. But if it went unchecked significant injury could occur to occupants. I knew the time was at hand to get it repaired. So, I called my superior, Dr. Winston, at the hospital.
“Can you assign another doctor to the rotation? My car needs to go in because of a recall.”
“You signed up for the morning rotation, Dr. Staley. You are expected to follow through.”
“I’ll call a cab.”
“You do that, but get here immediately.”
“I understand, sir, on my way.” I said. With a sigh I telephoned a cab that arrived fifteen minutes later. It was a five-mile drive to the hospital. En route, I lectured myself for not heeding the recall warning on my car.
When I walked into triage, I found Randy and his frantic mother pacing about as the lad watched cartoons. I introduced myself to mother and child and asked their concern.
“First, my son has a terminal illness. Second, he has been complaining of upset stomach for several hours.”
Turning to the lad, I asked, “Randy, was your Mom yelling at you yesterday?” I realized it was direct, but we were required to rule out abuse, neglect, poor food preparation, just to name a few biggies.
Hesitating, Randy said, “Yes doctor.” Randy was your average-looking child, with curly hair. Looking at his chart I could see his age, height, and weight. He was only eight years old.
“Not any more than usual,” Mom replied.
I checked his vitals and the readings showed he had a low-grade fever as well as high blood pressure.
“I’d like to admit Randy for observation.”
“Perhaps a day,” I said. An orderly escorted Randy and his Mom to a semi-private room on the non-critical care floor.
“Dr. Staley, glad you came to work,” my superior said. Dr. Winston was a middle-aged, balding African American man. He was rigorous with following procedures with staff, though he was somewhat relaxed with the patients.
“Dr. Winston, Randy is non-critical and will be observed for the day.”
“Very well.” His facial expression appeared stressed as he moved some charts on his desk. “Staley, plan to work a few more hours. We’re short staff today,” he said.
I nodded in agreement.
During my break, I called the Lexus dealership on my iPhone and made arrangements to handle the recall. The dealership was in Freemont which was only ten miles from town.
The attendant said, “We’re open until six o’clock today. Can you leave your car overnight?”
“Yes, I’ll plan to drop it off before 5 o’clock today. What time may I pick it up tomorrow?”
Once off the phone with the dealership I called Diane. We’d been dating for only a few months, but my charm worked as she agreed to drive my car to and from the dealership. Though I promised her dinner and a movie, of course I didn’t mind.
Once off the phone I went and checked on Randy who was stable, then onto my next two patients, a brother and sister whose opposing arms required a cast due to a playground accident.
Just before three o’clock I was called back into Randy’s hospital room. His mother appeared very anxious and was breathing rapidly.
“Dr. Staley, did you read Randy’s chart?”
“I did. Your son has a short time remaining, and you certainly have my sympathy.” I pulled a chair closer to her and sat down.
“I know he has stage IV lymphadenopathy and . . .”
She interrupted. “And will not live much longer. He is our only child. My husband no longer believes! To him, God, cares little or even has interest in humanity.” She glanced at her shoes. “I stopped going to church when we started dating nine years ago.”
“I used to love worship. I was even the captain of our youth soccer team in high school at Covenant High. It wasn’t until I started community college and met my husband that I felt there was little need for religion.”
“What do you think now?” I asked reaching for her hand.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know!”
“Randy is here overnight, and we can talk mid-morning,” I said.
“Mid-morning? That’s fine.”
“I suggest you take some time in the interim,” I said as she nodded in agreement. “Think about the last few years and your stepping aside from faith values.”
I finished the last of my rounds and reports before leaving at four o’clock by cab.
The recall light was still on when I arrived at Diane’s home. We drove separate vehicles to the dealership, checked my car in, and then went to dinner and a movie as planned. The next morning, she drove me back to the hospital so I could arrive in time for my seven o’clock rounds.
A light rain fell when Diane dropped me off at the hospital. It was mid-March, and winter was losing its grip. First, I checked my mailbox for notices or memos, and placed those in my work station. I boarded the elevator pressing for the non-critical care floor. I entered Randy’s room just before eight o’clock, as his breakfast was delivered.
I quipped, “Those scrambled eggs look good, Randy.”
He smiled. “Good morning, Doctor. Sorry my Mom was nervous yesterday.”
“No apology needed. She loves you, Randy.”
“What do you like to do for fun?”
“Watch cartoons and ride bike.”
“Warm weather will be here soon. I hope you can do some biking this year,” I said and rubbed the top of his head with my hand.
Randy’s Mom arrived later at ten o’clock, and called for me.
“You look more rested this morning,” I said. She returned my smile.
“I don’t mean to stir something up, but tell me, what is your faith in God today?”
“I did tell you of my attending church and being captain on the soccer team at my private high school.”
“You did. Those are things, though.” We were silent for a moment as Randy sat there playing a game on his iPhone.
“Well, I believe there is a God. I believe he puts up with a lot and then reacts.”
“Please, say more.”
“We used to sing a chorus based on the Psalms that says, as a deer pants for water, my soul pants for God. I guess once I got to college and met my husband other things became important.”
“Was it a sudden shift?”
“Gradual, but over the course of one year. We married that year, and Randy was born the next year.”
“I keep thinking of a verse my father used to quote.”
“Care to share it?”
“’I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tide sweep over me.’ It’s from Psalm 42:7.”
“That’s nice, but what is the connection?”
She started to sniffle and cry as she said, “Randy’s illness is the tumult and it’s on my mind day and night. I don’t feel God’s care, let alone tide sweeping over me.” I handed her a box of tissues and took a couple of minutes to calm her.
“I’m not in a position to tell you what to do or not to do. I’ll just suggest this. If you talk with God about everything, read this Psalm that your father recites, and God just may talk to you.”
“But it has been eight years,” she said dabbing the corners of her eyes with the tissue.
“That’s okay. Just start the conversation and go from there.”
She agreed to do that when Randy would nap at home.
By noon Randy was discharged and heading home. His mom told me she would send a text late afternoon. Meanwhile, one of the Residents drove me to the dealership to pick my car up and I gave him some cash for his time and trouble. The dealership had fixed the recalled issue on my Lexus in a timely fashion and I was pleased with the outcome.
Randy’s Mom sent me a text late afternoon:
‘Dr. Staley, I began my conversation with God this afternoon. Poured my heart out and tears too. Shared my anger about Randy’s illness, short life, and atheist husband. A lot! I feel a stalemate lifting, thanks!’
I responded in a simple short manner: ‘I am happy to hear this. Keep talking. God will be there to listen. Changes will happen!’
Many thanks to David Russell for submitting this story about faith and reconciliation with our Heavenly Father. Click here to learn more about David Russell and his other writing.