There was a television broadcasting CNN in the corner. Interestingly, none of the thirty or so people gathered in clusters across the room even noticed Anderson Cooper talking about Manti Te’o and the alleged hoax involving something about a fake girlfriend who recently died. None of that stuff mattered. In fact, in that room and at that moment only one thing mattered.
I learned a great life lesson while sitting in the surgical waiting room at St. Vincent Healthcare. Socioeconomic status waited patiently in the hallway with other dividers like race, age and politics. There was no interest in weather or Wall Street. Clothing, cell phones and split ends were never the topic of conversation as they added a level of complexity seemingly inappropriate under the circumstances. All of existence – all hopes and dreams were distilled to just one thing…life. The only thing that mattered was the outcome of the surgery. This was an amazing perspective check for me.
I had been sitting there for about ten minutes when I first noticed a lone lady who sat erect every time a new doctor would enter the room only to deflate after said doctor didn’t approach her. After each disappointing appearance, she would go back to shuffling her feet and twiddling her thumbs as she appeared to be sitting on pins and needles. She continued her exercise for over 90 minutes and a half dozen doctors.
“Are you ok?” I asked after our eyes met.
“No” she said while negatively shaking her head.
“Can I pray with you?”
“Yes” she said exasperatedly, confirming my hunch she was an emotional wreck.
Moments before our brief conversation, I sensed God leading me to go pray for her. I’m glad I did. She told me about her husband and how he’d been in surgery since 6:00 that morning. It was now 3:30pm and I could understand her angst. We held hands and entered God’s throne room. Afterward, she seemed calm and relaxed.
“I feel much better. Thank you. Who are you?” she asked with the look of bewilderment.
Laughing, I said, “My name is George Burgin. I’m a pastor at Harvest Church.”
“Harvest Church? I’ve been there. Not this past Christmas but last Christmas. My husband and I were driving around looking at Christmas lights when we noticed a bunch of traffic headed up toward the High School. We followed the traffic and pulled into the parking lot at Harvest Church. We weren’t planning on attending church but we thought, ‘hey, it’s Christmas Eve. We should go to church.’ So we did. We went to church and I loved it.”
We talked for several more minutes about Harvest Church, her husband Joe and how they met overseas before she wanted to get some coffee. I took that as my leave and motioned I’d be sitting right over there if she needed something. She got up for a cup of coffee and I returned to my original position.
Early in the day I started noticing a pattern used by the doctors coming into the waiting room. Almost as if rehearsed, each doctor would begin his report to the family with these words, “Well, the surgery went great…” and then went on to describe all aspects of the surgery and reassuring each family member of the wellbeing of their loved one. One time a doctor approached a family and asked to talk to them in the side room. After several minutes alone with the doctor, the family exited the room with slumped shoulders and a slow pace. My heart sank as they gathered their belongings and left the waiting room.
It was just before 5:00pm when the doctor approached my new friend. I’m certain she observed the previous doctors antics and entertained my same conclusions when the doctor asked to talk to her in the side room. His request sent her eyes looking my direction. Her angst coupled with a wide expression prompted my question.
“Do you want me to come in with you?”
She, the doctor and I entered the room and he suspiciously closed the door.
“Do you know this man?”
It was a good question. My proximity to her in the waiting room indicated we weren’t together. While I was searching for some official reason for my infiltration she quipped, “Yes, he’s my pastor!” I laughed and the doctor seemed satisfied.
The doctor described the difficult surgery, gave reasons for why the surgery took so long and indicated what the road to recovery looked like. He finished up the conversation shaking my hand and thanking me for being there for her. He had no idea that I’d only been Margarette’s pastor for just over two hours.
In all, I was in the surgical waiting room for seven and a half hours. Long enough to soberly watch life get distilled to a singular purpose and long enough to watch God change someone’s life right before me. I’ll see Joe and Margarette again soon.