By John Thomas Tuft

This is fiction.

If you’ve been in one hospital emergency department waiting room, you have pretty much been in them all. Rows of uncomfortable chairs, a couple of small tables with torn and battered magazines strewn across the tops, are of small comfort to the human perishables doing the waiting. That is what the room is about after all. This is where they come when bad things happen that injure the body, things that create fear and pain, the place where any and all in society are supposed to be able to come and receive help. The frightened, the forlorn, the forsaken, the fractured, the faltering, all gather in this one true High Church of Unholy Sacristy to seek help, healing, and hope while dreading the unction of mortality.

When I arrive the place is full, every seat is taken and folks are leaning against the walls, with every eye or ear tuned to the windows labeled ‘Registration’ and ‘Triage.’ Closed doors with electronic locks have signs declaring ‘Authorized Entrance Only’ reinforced by the presence of a hospital security guard to maintain this separation of the unwashed masses from the sterility and order of treatment. A very Presbyterian setup, come to think of it. And if that finds you offensive, grab another handful of M&Ms. Earlier that night, I had hung up from talking to Mary Beth. Now she was to be arriving by ambulance in the emergency department. Lights, sirens, police, the whole production. I hoped. Oh, how I hoped. The last thing she said to me rang loud in my head now. It came as her voice faltered and drifted off: “Please, will you call my mom?”

In a room rank with the noises, feelings, worries, expressions, and odors of human perishables, I was just one more. “Please, will you call my mom?” was either a declaration of hope or a bidding of farewell and I needed to know. I did not want to call her mom until I knew which. Now was not a moment for Bibles or beads, base demands for Divine intervention, or bombastic declarations of Divine will. The door to the sanctum of medical seers opened and the waiting room was immediately enveloped in the loudest silence. A woman in pale scrubs looked out at the supplicants then down at her clipboard. The perishables held their collective breath. “Carson family. The doctor wants to talk to you in the private consultation room.” Groans and whispers rush in to fill the vacuum that the silence has created. No good news is delivered in that private hell. At the same time, there is a rush of palpable relief in a true undercurrent of: “But it wasn’t us she called!”

I play the only card I have and step in front of the security guard. “I’m Reverend Tuft. It’s an emergency.” He rolls his eyes and indicates all the signs around declaring this to be the special realm for emergencies. “No, no. I mean I was called by someone trying to commit suicide. She slit her wrists and then called me.” I press on, the words tumbling out. “I didn’t know. I didn’t realize it at first.  She just said she needed to talk. So, I said okay. I tried to listen. I really did. It was a bunch of stuff I couldn’t quite follow. She sounded okay. I mean, well, she didn’t sound happy. But I didn’t know. Please, believe me. I didn’t know. They’re rushing her here. I need to get back there to see if she made it.” He wavers a bit. “She might need prayers. She asked me to call her mom, but I didn’t do it. Not yet. Because I don’t know. I don’t know what to say.” He surrenders and holds up his hands. “Okay, Buddy, go on back. Good luck.”

My footsteps echo in the long hallway. I think about what she said. “I’m most afraid of the moment right before it ends. Not the ending, but that moment right before.” Up to that point, I had failed to realize what was going on. Now, all I can do is wonder if she is still breathing. My steps quicken and I pull the phone from my jacket and find the number for her mom. I cannot push it to call, however. How could I not know? Has she tried to say something before? Have I failed? Then a terrible thought strikes. What if she doesn’t want to see me? That is, if she is still… “Reverend Tuft? She’s in here.” I didn’t see the nurse approach who now gently guides me to a treatment bay crowded with equipment and medical personnel. “She’s lost a lot of blood, but the doctor thinks she will make it. It will be a long road.” I don’t know what to say and stammer out a thank you.

They step aside and there I see her, pale on the sheets, blood dripping into her veins, wrists heavily bandaged. Mary Beth senses my presence and opens her eyes. Blinks. In a weak voice, “Daddy.” I have no words. My knees go weak and I sway like a great wind is passing by. Years of trying to be better, trying to make things work, trying to give love flash before me in a blink. Do we measure ourselves by our failures or by the times we get back up and try again? I step forward and smooth the red hair from her forehead. I try to speak but I cannot. I take my phone and put it near her face and press the button. “Call your mom…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.