2 Sometimes we see the future

My first emergency patient visit.

Everyone has a first real hospital visit. Everyone who makes hospital visits for a living, anyway. Visits with family members don’t count. The grandparent, the child, the parent. I had done those. But when you have a family connection, your focus is on yourself in some way, on your relationships to the patient, on your fear.

By the time I was forty I had been to the ER for my mom’s mini-stroke. I’d visited my dad for a handful of operations. I’d been to three births. I’d even been taken to the ER after passing out while speaking one time.[1]

But then there is a visit where you’ve not met the patient. Maybe it’s the family of a friend. Maybe it’s the friend of a friend. For me it was Ed.[2]

Ellen, Ed’s wife, worked with me. We were part of the administrative staff at a college. I had no interest in ministry or chaplaincy or working in a church at that point. After fifteen years, I was prepared to work in higher education for the rest of my career.

One evening, I got a call from our mutual boss. Ed was in the hospital, facing emergency surgery. Nancy and I went to see Ed and Ellen.

Ed was talking, but a little scared. His wife was staying calm, but was scared. Our boss and I were listening, talking, trying to understand.

They said that he had an aortic aneurysm. I had no idea what it was.[3] I thought aneurysms were in the brain. All I understood is that they were going to do surgery on his heart. I understood that it would be risky. But I also understood that we were able to talk with him. I couldn’t imagine that someone we could chat with could be near death.

I was confused.

Somehow in this room, in a Catholic hospital, with a Catholic sister and a chaplain standing in the room, I ended up being the one praying for the surgeon and for Ed and for my friend. I have no idea what I said. But I remember being aware that it was my job at that moment to offer intercession and comfort.

We went to the waiting room. Some family showed up for Ellen. I made sure that there was money for snacks since Ellen hadn’t eaten in awhile. Nancy and I went home.

Ed didn’t survive the surgery. We went to the funeral, went to the small country cemetery. At some point, Ellen came back to work. And then I left that job and started to work as a pastor.

Most of the moments in my life are fuzzy or forgotten. That night in pre-op is clear. I wasn’t aware of the hospital smells or the hospital equipment. I wasn’t aware of my historic queasiness around needles, the kind that had caused the Red Cross to say, “Let other people donate blood” after I had passed out twice following blood donation. I was completely focused on Ed and Ellen and offering support.

I don’t think that I received my calling to ministry or chaplaincy that night. I heard no voices. But I’m pretty sure that I was given a taste of my future.


  1. Seriously. But there wasn't anything wrong and the ER staff took turns asking what had happened to hear the story of the speech professor who passed out while speaking.
  2. I'm going to use names throughout this book and they will never be the person's actual name.
  3. Now I know that it's a bulge (aneurysm) in your aorta, the biggest blood vessel in the body, carrying blood from the heart. If it bursts, blood flows into your chest. Very dangerous. But the surgery to repair the aneurysm can be dangerous, too.

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Before You Walk In Copyright © 2018 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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