A sign from heaven, via text

When I walked in the door at 8 p.m. recently, my wife Carla put on a face and asked me where I had been. I answered with the usual: "The stripper bar."

I mean, where did she think I'd been? Sometimes, I think she gets a bit jealous of my other wife, the hospital.

It may sound crazy, but I think the hospital is fun, filled with some hilarious moments and truly great people.

Like when I walked into a patient's room and asked how he slept. He was unusually grumpy.

"Lousy, he said. "Whaddaya expect? These beds are horrible, and I slept like a Toulouse Latrec painting!"

Only someone who has slept in a hospital bed knows what he means.

One of my favorite patients died recently. One night, before he died, we talked about his prognosis at his bedside in the hospital. He knew he was dying, and I guess he actually welcomed death. He told me he was tired of being sick and wanted the end - that he wasn't afraid. I asked him if he knew what would happen after he died; if he thought there would be an afterlife. He said he didn't know for sure but that he hoped so.

Then he said, "Goodbye and good luck. Have a good life. I've liked knowing you."

"Easy," I said. "Not so fast. You're not dying right now."

He shrugged, so I said, "Well, when you do get there, can you send me a sign?"

He gave me a rare smile and said, "Sure. What kind do you want?"

I shrugged: "Email works."

But then he said, sincerely troubled, "But I don't really know how to email." So I told him any old sign would do.

I was checking my email yesterday, wading through the spam - invitations to go to some heart conference and job offers to work "in paradise," which is really somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I smiled, wondering if this was his funny idea of a sign.

Later, as I was finishing my rounds, I wondered if I was ever going to get that sign. At the time, the hospital was not as enjoyable as usual with nurses on strike and then lockout. Walking around the hospital was like walking in a strange, sad place - an underworld of sorts. In this "underworld," lunch in the cafeteria didn't include sitting with people I know and joking about the usual things; it was usually wolfing down a sandwich alone so I could get to the next procedure or patient.

A few days ago, I ran into the one of the nurse managers and asked if there was any news on the strike negotiations.

"Nothing," he said. "No, they can't seem to make a deal. It'll take a sign from heaven to get the nurses back."

I shrugged. A little while later, I got a text from the number 990-00 which read: "L+M to lift lockout. Check email for more info."

So maybe my patient couldn't email me a sign, but between here and There, he learned how to text.


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