I think I have a twisted relationship with the chaplain at Henry Mayo, the hospital where I’ve found myself too many times in the past 3 months and where I find myself in bed and typing this blog post.
Ok, so it’s probably just a very twisted relationship on my part…although NOW I think he’s in on it, maybe. Maybe it’s wrong to call it a “relationship,” but more of a really screwed up game of mental chess we have going on.
Hang on, let me back up.
You see way back on one of my very first stays here long ago in 1999 or 2000, before Lupus and babies and our entire life in this valley, they asked me in the ER if I had a religious preference.
Catholic, I guess?
When you are sick and in pain you really don’t want to debate your entire existential breakdown with some stranger and say “atheist” or “agnostic” and get that look.
Oh come on, every NONChristian knows entirely what I’m talking about here. The look where if you say you answer that with anything other than Christian you get prompting the questioners want of some sort of explanation. See, many of you know what I’m talking about. Especially in the town where I live.
So I made a quick decision to say “Catholic” and it’s followed me through what must be dozens of stays and the birth of our two children at this hospital.
Sometime back a few hospital stays ago (how sad is that?) a parade of chaplains visited me. I have no idea why. I have no idea what list I landed on…the ‘has requested ministry’ list or what, but when the Catholic priest finally came in we got to chatting. I may not be religious, but I’m not rude. And I enjoy discussing religion.
Well it took this priest all of 3 seconds to realize this lapsed Catholic wasn’t getting communion. Let me rephrase that, even if I wanted communion, he wasn’t giving it to me. He refused me communion.
“You will need to attend Mass, of course. And before I can administer (administer? is it a drug?) communion you will need to go to confession.”
No really. He was hard-core, old school and there was no way I was getting out of this without several Hail Mary’s, a good smack on my knuckles with a ruler and there was certainly no way he could be bought off with a few beers at the Friday Night Fish Fry.
The Catholics in the house are following me, the rest of you will catch up shortly.
The next visit I had more of the clergy on parade. Seriously, I’m on A LIST OR SOMETHING. This time very nice prayers were said for me and I had a chuckle about once again knowing I wouldn’t take communion but wondering if I would be offered. (For the record only one of the chaplains offered)
So of course during this stay, I expected to be visited by a chaplain on my first day. But Saturday went by and no visit. Sunday went by and again, no visit. I wondered if maybe, just maybe, Henry Mayo had gotten my survey card and I was finally listed as “no preference” under religion.
Leading up to today, I’ve been admittedly been getting nostalgic for the traditions of my youth as my daughter is doing what every 4th grader in California MUST do: the Mission Project.
As my youngest was putting together her styrofoam Santa Barbara Mission I was thinking about how I still carry a rosary out of habit and superstition. How religious my Aunt was and how she rarely missed Mass. How I can remember Easter Sunday Mass in Florida with my Mom and her sister, so excited to show off my new bonnet and pretty dress, clutching my “children’s rosary” with white gloves.
Both of my Aunts, along with my grandfather, recently passed away, also focusing my attention on the afterlife. Throw in my illness and you have the makings of Erin oddly contemplating lighting a candle for her ailing body the next time she passes a Catholic church.
Additionally, I’ve been taking a liking to the new Pope. Well, as far as Pope’s go.
Facebooking recent news headlines. Going so far as to finding the Vatican’s gift shop online and having an Ave Maria medal, blessed by Pope Francis, sent from Rome to California. I told myself because the Schubert version was sung at my wedding this was entirely justified and I was just being superstitious.
But back to my current stay here at Hotel Henry Mayo.
Monday arrives and with it a hope my test results will come in and I will be discharged to go home. No such luck.
My UCLA based doctor arrived just before lunch, and after having nothing but liquids and then ‘soft and bland’ food for two days I was excited because GRILLED CHEESE was ordered for my lunch. GRILLED CHEESE PEOPLE!!!! I am not sure I’ve ever been so excited about a damn sandwich in my life.
Sure enough just as my lunch arrived, the doctor made the decision to hold all food and water, IV fluids only, in order to run a test. Because…of course.
Off in the wings, waiting to say hello and witnessing the conversation, was none other than the Catholic chaplain. Oh sure NOW he shows. Just in time to see my defeat after handing me the “get your ass to confession you Jezebel.” I am also positive he saw my face sink as my lunch tray was being sent out the door.
Point Team Chaplain.
The doctor went off to make arrangements for the test. He was going to push to get it done that afternoon. But if he couldn’t get it done until Tuesday morning, I’d be able to have lunch. Tough call. I want to eat in front of the chaplain, but I want to go home more. What to root for… what to root for…
“Hello again, Mrs. Kotecki Vest. I’m so sorry to see you back here again. But God does have a plan.”
Yeah, a plan to steal my goddamn grilled cheese right from under my nose…doesn’t he have better things to do?
Me, nodding, but smiling and immediately wondering if he will remember he WILL NOT give me communion because I’m a bad Catholic who needs to go to confession and tell the Priest about her lusting for LL Cool J and thinking many other impure thoughts.
“Would you like communion today?”
Is he kidding? Seriously? Is this a sick joke? Did Father Thou Shall Not Ever Have Communion Again just half offer me communion? Contemplates taking him up on it because a) it’s FOOD and b) I want to call his bluff. I know he knows who I am.*
*Makes mental note to confess I’m playing communion poker with a priest.
“Oh wait, I guess you can’t have anything at all by mouth, not even communion. Hahahaha, I’m so sorry.”
Did that asshole just laugh MANIACALLY at my not yet born food pangs? Ok now I’m MUST be imaging this. I’m in a battle of communion with the chaplain at a hospital… I’m seriously losing it. I’ve had too many drugs.
“Would you mind if I said a prayer for you today?”
“Of course not. Thank you,” I say with an evil smile.
“In fact, I’d like to start with not a prayer, but just a little something I want to read to you. I think it will open our minds to the spirituality and prepare us for prayer.”
Ok, now I’m certain he’s screwing with me. He has to be. ‘Open my mind for prayer’ with a pre-prayer? Do people do this? When was my last pain shot? He has to remember me and he’s making up for it by giving me extra time or he’s doing it to torture me? WHAT IS HAPPENING???
Father-I-still-don’t-know-his-name proceeds to open a book and flip through about 600 pages until he finds what he’s looking for. I swear this quiet process, during which I dared not say a word thinking he was going bust into the pre-party at any moment, took a good, full minute.
“…and to be charitable to those not like us, be they from other lands or of bodies unable…help us Lord…”
“…help us Lord to remember we are all one. We are all the same in the eyes of God…”
Ok, this is kinda nice. He’s talking a very sweet Imagine all the People John Lennon vibe. I can get behind this.
“And now, I want to read a special prayer for you Mrs. Kotecki Vest…”
…and out comes a clipboard with printed pages of which he flips through, not finding what he’s looking for. He goes back to his big book, flips, flips, still not finding the prayer. The SPECIAL prayer for ME. And then he literally pulls a tiny pocket book of prayers from his BACK POCKET and says, “yes, I think this one…yes, yes.”
And it begins…but I don’t remember a single thing he is speaking, special for me, because in walks the cafeteria woman with my lunch tray and she stands behind him quietly, waiting for him to finish.
Wait? Am I getting my grilled cheese? Really? Hang on, she’s a different woman who the doctor sent out…she doesn’t know I can’t eat that grilled cheese. That sweet, savory, comfort food grilled cheese!!!! DAMN!!!! She’s just back there teasing me!
The chaplain notices the woman with the tray behind him, along with the now nurse coming in…and hastens his reading pace a bit.
I haven’t heard a word of this prayer and I feel guilty now. THANKS Catholic upbringing! But i’m pushing the guilt out of my head and am focusing on the grilled cheese. Is it mine? Will it BE mine?
Even the cafeteria woman and my nurse are now shifting uncomfortably behind him at this point. It’s like the sense a stand off, and they know I am looking at the tray like it’s my prey and the chaplain an animal I must defeat in order to eat.
“…in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit…Amen.”
Sweet Jesus FINALLY!
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I can have that…”
The cafeteria woman looks at the nurse who says, “Oh that’s right, the doctor was putting in your test orders…I’m sorry, let me go and check what time the test was scheduled.”
…and out the tray goes through the door again…
I jokingly say to the Chaplain, “Now had you gotten my grilled cheese back with that prayer you just might have a shot at getting me back to Mass!”
Point Team Flying Spaghetti Monster.
…and in walks the tray again, with my doctor behind it.
“I wasn’t able to get your test until morning. So you can eat until midnight. Enjoy your lunch.”
Devilish grin creeps over the Chaplain’s face.
Point Team Chaplain.
We both laugh.
“I guess that also means you can have communion now,” he says with a raised eyebrow.
Is he doing this to me? Is he REALLY doing this to me????
“Thank you, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. But I appreciated the prayers.”
Point Team Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Still laughing I sit down to my grilled cheese and eat and text my husband, as I haven’t had a chance to tell him what the doctor said and if I’m coming home yet (I’m not) and all about the test and my nearly lost and then found, Amazing Grace of a grilled cheese.
Just after I text the line: “God brought my grilled cheese…”
He replies: “Karma. I made one earlier.”
Point Team Chaplain. Bastard!*
*Makes mental note to confess I called a Chaplain a bastard…in my head, but still.
A few hours pass and I convince myself it was all just silliness. Silliness and enough narcotics to take down a large mamma elephant.
Then my son and husband arrive.
“Count Waffles! Did anything significant happen on the way over you want to tell your Mom about?”
Oh boy, here we go…What did they do on the way from school to here?
“Oh, we went to Michael’s and got some stuff.”
“Did anything MORE significant or miraculous happen?”
Seriously? Did he just say that?
“Ummm…oh we went to Cost Plus too and we found cool Mexican Sprite bottles. We’re going to make lights out of them!”
Okkkayyyy…I don’t get it, but that explains the Michael’s trip.
“Jack! Did anything even more triple miraculous than THAT happen on the way here??”
“OH OH OH! We saw a TRIPLE RAINBOW!!!!!”*
Game. Set. Match. Team Chaplain.
*Makes mental note to confess she called a chaplain an MFer in her head.
We need to make sure when I’m allowed food again, it’s spaghetti and meatballs.