Richard Gay led me down a maze of back hallways through a utilitarian door into the surgical waiting room. The contrast was stark.The industrial white walls and high-traffic vinyl gave way to light pastels and patterned carpet.
The wall on the public side was glass. There were private alcoves with phones, lamps on end tables and soft seating. A well-stocked coffee bar wafted caffeine and coffee tables sat ready. Magazine racks and TV screens provided distractions. A help desk was manned by a smiling volunteer.
It was the perfect place to go crazy.
A room built for waiting. A room where nothing happens. A room where you can’t do anything. A worry room. A helpless room. A room to relax. Maybe have a nice cup of coffee. Read. Watch TV in comfort while the person you love . . .
I got up and tried the coffee first, as a delaying tactic. It took maybe a minute. It was bitter. But to be fair, no cup of coffee has ever been made that could make this situation better.
Sometime during that first cup of coffee, I realized that, even though this hospital had been open for less than a week, Richard already knew shortcuts through the staff-only areas. He’d already been here praying with other people. Pastors, even education ministers, must do more of this type of thing than I realized.
We found a couple of empty chairs and settled in. We talked about random subjects. I knew Richard because I occasionally helped Suzie with her class of toddlers when the church nursery got too crowded. That would have to wait for awhile. What else would change?
Richard was the church educational pastor, which included the children’s program. He constantly dealt with tears, illness, rowdiness and developmental issues – and that was just the parents. He’d earned my admiration by always handling it with apparent ease and an unexpectedly sharp sense of humor.
But today he just sat with me and waited.
Not that I could hold a conversation. I asked questions and he filled in the gaps. I was surprised to learn that he did other ministry outside our fairly large church. How did he find the time? He was beginning to explain when a familiar voice interrupted.
Only one person called me that, Larry McEwen. I turned and hugged my old friend.
“Thanks for coming, bro. I didn’t expect you.”
“How could I be anywhere else?” he said.
I first met Larry in a recording studio in Pearl, Mississippi. The session was a contemporary Christian band named Matthew and we would all become good friends. Larry was the roadie, audio engineer and preacher for the group. He closed out every concert and then helped load the gear. We became instant friends.
I introduced Larry to Richard with his official title, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in East Nashville. The church had one foot in the projects and one foot in an older middle-class neighborhood, which suited Larry to a T. He was always up for challenges, whether as a singer/songwriter, volunteer firefighter, traveling itinerate preacher or carpenter building houses in earthquake-torn Haiti.
We caught up on news for a few minutes. Larry assured me his church was praying for Suzie. Sitting there between two pastors I was surrounded by as much support as anyone should need. Between the two of them, they had faced worse situations than this. I should feel better having them here, and I did, sort of.
It was inevitable that two pastors from churches just across the river from each other should have a lot to talk about. They struck up a long-standing friendship because that’s what they do. I got another cup of coffee to let them talk. I didn’t mind. Having someone there was enough for me. And I didn’t have to try to talk.
Watching the flow of people, I realized the separate sitting areas in the back were for surgeons to consult with friends and family. From then on, I kept my attention focused on the rear door. When Dr. Burns finally walked through it he motioned for me not to get up. He came and sat down next to me like a man who’d been standing for a long time.
“She’s fine and everything went well,” he said. “There was nothing unexpected and her lymph nodes looked clear to the naked eye.” I was waiting for the bad news. “They’re finishing up now. We won’t know for sure until we get the biopsy back from the lab but it sure looks like we got it all.”
Relief came like a huge breath of air. I thanked him profusely which he brushed away as if it were routine. For him, I guess it was.
“She’ll be in recovery about an hour after they get through in surgery. You can wait for her upstairs. I just wanted to come tell you quickly that everything looks good.”
He went back through the door and I called everyone to report in. I talked to the kids then I went for a long hard walk.
It was done. Or so I thought.