On my rounds one day I bumped into two men in their hospital gowns and bare feet chatting at the door of their ward. They were new admissions in for a few days of tests before possible heart surgery. I passed by in my 'blacks' and Roman collar and gave a cheery 'Good morning'. Instead of answering they looked me up and down with some disdain, computed that I was of no relevance to them, and continued chatting.
It was the same the next day though on the third one of them managed the tiniest 'G'day' from the corner of his mouth. On the fourth day they were both trapped in their adjoining beds with the "Nil By Mouth" sign dangling above their heads. They were not happy. I approached the first one and said 'Operation today?' 'Yeah, mate .. er .. Father.'
'Don't worry, these heart procedures are nothing these days. They're just routine. You'll be right,' and before he could answer, 'Where are you from?'
'Dubbo.' 'Oh, the good country. I love that sort of country, almost outback. Let me give you a blessing before your op.' What could he do but say 'Ok'?
So I put my hand on his head and prayed. His friend in the other bed didn't have the heart to refuse my offer of a blessing, most of his energy was going into the pre-op jitters.
Next day they were there in ICU - looking like two wounded rabbits. Each had a big vertical scar down the middle of his chest and each was clutching a towel folded up against the suture. They were not in a good mood and suffering considerably. I knew not to start joking around, gave them a quick blessing and left.
The next two days saw big improvements, there were no complications and the pain left their eyes. 'Can I give you a blessing this morning?' 'Sure thing, Father.'
The last time I saw them was back in the Coronary Care Unit. I was walking past their room to check the names on the board and they called out 'Hey, Father, you've forgotten the blessing!' 'No, I haven't, I was just getting the list from the board.' We talked for a good while that day. They knew they were going and would probably never see me again but we were almost friends. There was a warmth in that room, an understanding - I might even say, the Holy Spirit.