When to pray with a patient, when to not? Whose need is being met? What forms of prayer (i.e. formulated, spontaneous, memorized...?), what names of the Divine (Heavenly Father, Creating Mother, Love Eternal, Gracious God, Jesus...), what voice to use (We ask you today, I pray today, Your sister prays today for...), what posture (lamentation, gratitude, adoration, intercession...) and on and on.
My experiences of prayer in the hospital have been many and varied. More and more, I am leaning into the prayer of presence and the form of touch. I am humbled by God's myriad voices that come from the patients, families and staff. Why do I need to add to that already beautiful music?
The title of this blog is the song that has been bouncing around in my head ever since the following prayer experience happened. Its from the double album Tommy, by The Who, about a "deaf, dumb, and blind boy" who becomes the leader of a messianic movement and was the first musical work called "rock opera." The climax of Tommy was said by many to be the highlight of the 1969 Woodstock festival. As Roger Daltrey began to sing "See Me, Feel Me", the sun began to rise, as if on cue.
Here's what happened. I responded to a Code Blue in one of the critical care units.
(That means someone has cardiac arrested and is, literally, turning blue for lack of oxygen. When we show up for a Code Blue it's anyone's guess what we will find to be and to do in that situation.)
On this day, The Code Blue team was already on the scene when I arrived, with the doctor barking orders, the charge nurse performing CPR, the pharmacist and technician injecting medicines, the respiratory therapist squeezing the blue air bag, the scribe who was recording it all and several other nurses in the room doing whatever was needed.
The code-ee's wife and family were right outside the glass-walled room. Watching. Waiting. Holding their breath. Crying. I was praying that none of them code as well so I breathed aloud like Darth Vader to remind them to breathe. The entire family was on pins and needles as the spouse considered how much longer she would allow the medical team to do "this" to her husband. "What shall I do?" she asked, rhetorically, out loud.
As we watched in horror, we also prayed like this: We all bowed our heads and spontaneously, son put his hand on mom's shoulder. Daughter did, too. Patient's two brothers were there and they placed one hand on each sibling. Random friends put their hands on one-another's shoulders. I was in the back, and followed suit. Not a word was said.
The medical team resuscitated the patient and there was a pause. Stabilized. "Oh, thank God," the spouse replied. The tears flowed freely from released fear and immense gratitude. Sadly, the medical news was that this would not be the last code. Prognosis was that as soon as code-ee's heart rate got to 60 it would arrest again. What would he want us to do? Shall we continue to resuscitate, even though this involves breaking ribs? As she considered this question, he coded again. As the medical team launched into resuscitation mode again, with the spouse and family watching, the touch-prayer chain re-started.
After about a minute, she spoke. "Stop."
They stopped. The touch prayer turned into hugs and tears prayer. The medical team left the room and allowed the family to come in and say their last goodbyes.
No words were said.
We touched him. She felt him. They held him. God healed him, in God's way.
He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. - Luke 24: 38-40
How are you using "touch" to pray with or for others when you show up to the moment?