Life Can Turn on a Dime

A man in his twenties was headed home on foot from a friend’s house one night in San Francisco. He had walked home this way many times before, never having any trouble. However this time, he was attacked by thieves, who stabbed him repeatedly, took his wallet, and left him bleeding on the sidewalk.

He ended up in one of our hospital’s Intensive Care Units post-surgery, surrounded by his very concerned Mom, Dad and sister. His name on the chart was John. So, when Helen, who is a chaplain like me, and I stepped into the room, we softly called him that name to see if he was awake. He was not, but we met his family, who told us his story. For weeks, we visited him and whichever family member was there. There was always a family member by his side. One day, his name on the chart was different. His family was calling him by his real name, Nathan. His father told us that the false name was to protect him from anyone who meant to harm him. The ones who robbed him might not have been random thieves, but enemies who might return to kill him.

Who was Nathan that he might have such enemies? He was a person in our care and that was all that mattered to us. We got to know him as well as we could. He was young with light brown hair and handsome face. He loved reggae music. As chaplains who provided Music is Good Medicine, songs by request at the bedside for patients and loved ones, we sang and played, “No Woman, No Cry,” a very white version of Bob Marley. We played, “You’ve Got a Friend.” We visited so much, we befriended him day in and day out. He said we lifted his spirits and made him laugh. I think we sang and played our entire repertoire on the ukulele and guitar.

Then one day as we made our rounds of the hospital floors, he was no longer there in the ICU. The Catholic chaplain told us that he had died. It was unexpected. He had told his family, “He was ready to go to God. He was okay.” But we were not. We were not ready to let him go.