Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Baptist Preacher, Part One

A Baptist preacher fell in love with me when I was nineteen, and carries a torch for me to this day.~~GH

I worked on 3-North at Charleston Memorial Hospital. That unit was practically intensive care; it was Dr. James Walker’s personal floor. Thirty-two beds – four beds in each ward, eight wards on the unit compromised 3-North. Dr. Walker had his own rules, one of which was no visiting hours except Sunday afternoons from 1-8:30 p.m.

Since our patients were very ill, many if not all of them were on respirators or ventilators, you can imagine the influx of visitors on Sundays. There was no limit to how many visitors a patient could have, either, so it wasn’t unusual for four to six visitors to crowd around each bed. Four patients per room, plus let’s call it an average of five people per bed – that’s twenty-four people crammed into a fairly small space.

With twenty-four-plus human beings talking in various tones, a variety of whoosh-making breathing equipment, electronic IV machines tick-tick-ticking, and the general ambient noise of that many people moving about bumping into things, the rooms were quite chaotic. So when this bigger-than-life barrel-chested six-four guy shows up in tennis whites carrying a racquet and begins practically shouting out greetings, you can understand that I was not amused as I attempted to listen to a patient’s breath sounds with my stethoscope.

I asked him to kindly tone it down a bit, and I didn’t catch what he said, but whatever it was caused a ripple of titters in the crowd around the patient he was visiting. He seemed arrogant and something about his attitude challenged something in me. I continued checking my patients’ vital signs and inspecting their equipment to make sure everything operated properly. This big tennis guy kept making jokes and regaling his audience with stories about the game he’d just come from. I had played competitive tennis since I was seven years old, and his boasts got under my skin. I became more and more annoyed just listening to him.

He had an unusual oratory style; the people seemed to hang on his every word. I found that interesting, if irritating. At the time, I’d never been in a Baptist or other fundamentalist church. I had been raised Presbyterian and our services were low key and understated.

Eventually, I got my chance to pipe up. He made some comment about skinning both his elbows playing tennis.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

He answered me.

I murmured something unintelligible under my breath, nodded my head, then turned away and busied myself with my patient.

He took the bait. “Why did you want to know where I’m from?”

I turned back, paused a beat, and said, “Because where I’m from, we don’t play tennis on our elbows.”

Twenty-some people burst out laughing. A few even hooted and jeered. The big tennis man’s face turned crimson, his ears practically glowed they were so red.

And so it began.

[Tomorrow: Part 2]

No comments: