From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Sir . . .My Waiting Room Angel

The five-minute drive to the hospital seemed to take hours. I leaned against the passenger door of the car and tried to let the coolness of the window calm me. My mother had sent her friend to come get me. How like Mom to think of me driving to the hospital in my worried and frantic state—I had just gotten the news that my father had suffered a massive heart attack. Shock, worry, uncertainty and sheer terror all bombarded me without yield. I could not speak. I could not think. It was as if an unseen force controlled every part of me. I whispered prayers that I was not too late.

When we arrived at the hospital, I ran through the emergency room doors and back to the room where my father was stretched out on a table. My beautiful mother was collapsed in a heap in the middle of the floor, crying uncontrollably. She saw me and extended her arms for me, and then I heard it—the thin shrill cry of a flatline.

Doctors, nurses and orderlies filled the room barking orders in that medical language you see on television. I heard the crash of equipment being pushed through emergency room doors and a series of blips and bleeps. A metal tray haphazardly crashed to the floor somewhere behind me and I heard one brave, calm soul counting down numbers, “One-Two-Three-Four-Five-Breathe!One-Two-Three-Four-Five-Breathe! Clear.” A volt of electricity ran through my father lying helplessly on the table and at that moment a part of me died inside.

After several minutes, a comforting series of bleeps began. His heart was beating on its own again. The next few hours were frightening. A team of emergency technicians was constantly monitoring his vital signs; however, his condition had improved quite a bit.

While asking a nurse to watch over my mother, I excused myself and found an empty waiting room. Like many people in the midst of a crisis, I had been keeping a tight rein on my emotions. Now, I chose a couch in the farthest corner and collapsed. The tears flowed uncontrollably, the sick and helpless feeling in my gut returned full force, and the experience began to take its toll. I prayed out loud for guidance from above to please not let my daddy die. I prayed for strength so I could be there for my mother—but I didn’t know from where that strength could possibly come. I was frightened and felt very small and very alone. I worried that my father would die without truly knowing just how much I loved him. We had always been close, but how . . . how could words describe that kind of love? I buried my head in my hands and continued crying.

Softly, on my left shoulder, I felt a hand. Through tearfilled eyes I looked up and there he was. An elderly man with piercing eyes as blue as an autumn sky and a face of weathered leather. His once-powerful frame was now slightly bent and covered by a well-worn pair of overalls.

“It’s okay, child. It’s gonna be okay,” his gruff, yet softened voice whispered to me. “You know you don’t have to worry none ’bout your daddy knowing how you feel.”

A puzzled look in my eyes beckoned him to continue as his strong hands pulled mine from my face and comforted me.

“Your daddy knows how much you love him, he always has, and no matter what happens, he will always be with you.”

I had no idea how this stranger could have known what I was feeling inside, but this sweet man sat down beside me and gently put his arm around me, rocking me slowly back and forth. I spent an hour in this isolated waiting room with this comforting soul at my side, discussing prayers and memories of my father. He told me his wife was also in the critical care ward dying of cancer and was not expected to live but a few days. I expressed my sorrow for his soon-to-be loss and asked what I could do for him and his wife.

“What’s to be will be. My wife and I have lived and loved each other a long, long time. Forever it seems. My loss is soothed by the comfort of eternal peace—your situation is much different. Hush now child, you rest, I will wake you if there is any news.”

Weary and completely drained of energy, I soon drifted off to sleep being held by a stranger. A nurse accompanied my mother into the waiting room where I was resting and gently woke me.

“Your father has been moved to a critical care room. He is out of immediate danger; however, it will be a long night. We have arranged to have a couple of cots moved into the room so you may stay with him. He is a very lucky man.” She quickly left the room to attend to other patients.

Mom sat down beside me and I quickly glanced around the room for my stranger. He was gone. I wanted to tell her what had happened, but she soon fell asleep, overwhelmed with exhaustion. She leaned her head on my shoulder and dozed as I held her close. Miraculously, I felt peace and strength I didn’t know I had. I assumed it was from the utter calm of the stranger in the waiting room. I can’t explain it, but when I looked in his blue eyes and he told me to rest and not worry, I had felt his calmness transfer to me.

Dad remained in the hospital for several weeks. I never left his side. My eyes glued to the monitors praying those bleeps did not stop. I slept in short intervals, frequenting the cafeteria for a shot of caffeine and occasionally I would see the man from the waiting room. Each time we bumped into each other, he would whisper with a twinkle in his eye, “He’s doing better today isn’t he?”

“Yes sir, he is. Thank you for sitting with me. How is your wife doing?” I questioned.

“Now, now child, I told you, an eternal peace is comfort. She has her days—some are good, some are bad.”

“What room is she in? Perhaps I can bring the two of you some dinner later?” I asked eagerly wanting to repay the kindness.

“Ah, child, my memory is a lot older than my body is. I can’t recall the room number, but I can always find my way to her. We’ll be alright, you just take care of your daddy.”

Over the next few weeks, Dad improved daily. I continued to bump into the kind gentleman. Unfortunately, I was always by myself because I wanted so badly to introduce him to my family. However, the opportunity never arose. I always looked forward to seeing him and even once wandered through the critical care ward peeking into rooms to see if perhaps I could find him. I wanted to do something nice for him, but I never found him.

The night before my father’s release was the first good night’s rest I had the entire time he was hospitalized. That night, the lumpy recliner, which had given me many backaches all the many nights before, felt exceptionally comfortable. I curled up in a blanket the nurse had given me and quickly fell asleep. Sometime after midnight, I awoke suddenly. My heart pounding, I studied the monitors above Dad’s bed making sure they were working. I looked over at mom sleeping peacefully and realized I must have just been dreaming. I curled up into the blanket and just happened to glance over to the window. Through the half-closed blinds, I saw the blue-eyed old man. He raised one weathered finger to his lips, “Sssshh” and smiled. He waved and went on his way. I slept soundly the remainder of the evening.

The next day was exciting for me as I helped Mom pack Dad’s belongings and loaded the car. After the nurse whisked Dad away in the wheelchair, I ran back to the room for one last look around making certain we did not leave anything behind. Then I found a nurse—I just had to thank my friend. He had sustained me through long weeks when I didn’t think I could go on. Yet I always had. He always appeared when I needed him most.

“Nurse, an older man has been on this ward at his wife’s side. You must have seen him wandering around. He’s fairly tall, white-haired, deep blue eyes. And he’s very sweet. I’d like to say good-bye to him.”

“I’m sorry. That’s not ringing a bell with me. Hold on. . . .” the nurse said. She went and got a supervisor, and I explained again how the old man had been a great source of comfort to me and I needed to say good-bye. They went over the list of patients, but not one older woman was listed on the critical care ward.

“We have several older men and a couple of car accident victims, but no women on this floor.”

After asking around, no one could even recall seeing the old man. I was completely perplexed. Surely I hadn’t imagined this man. He had to be in the hospital somewhere. But more questioning of nurses and orderlies drew a complete blank. Sadly, I realized I would have to leave without saying a proper good-bye.

Later that night, after Dad was settled at home, I reflected on the mysterious stranger. Maybe the old man himself was the answer to my prayers in that lonely waiting room. That elderly gentleman with those strong, weathered hands, the faded overalls and those deep, piercing blue eyes was a prayer answered for me. He helped me through one of the most difficult times in my life with his gentle voice and kind words. He brought me peace and hope at a time when I thought none could be found. Perhaps he was sent as my daddy’s guardian angel. Or mine. My very own waiting room angel.

Carla M. Fulcher

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