It was 8:30 by the time they were ready to leave for the hospital. The drive took them a little more than 30 minutes. The Emergency Room doors whooshed open on their automatic rollers letting stale hospital air out into the delta evening. The night guard issued visitor badges and gave directions to the ICU. Dixie’s heart had begun to recover from the numbing effects of shock and was now pumping urgency through its veins.
The nurse on duty at the the ICU nurse’s station knew Richard from previous pastoral visits to the hospital. They greeted each other cordially. Dixie wanted to explode, get to the point! Finally her dad asked the nurse, whose name was Kelly, if they could see Joe and if she had news of Kenny. Dixie held her breath as Kelly looked at her computer screen.
“Mr. McAllister is in room 307. I’m not registering a Kenny McNab on the floor.” She pressed a few more buttons. “It looks like he is in operating room 4 with Dr. Harris.”
If he was in surgery that meant he was still alive! Quick tears sprung to Dixie’s eyes and she breathed a prayer that was more like a plea of agony. Oh, please God, let him live.
Her dad was talking to Kelly again. “Thank you Kelly. Can we see Joe for just a moment?”
“Just briefly. He’s still groggy from the anesthesia and needs to rest. I’ll walk you down to his room.”
The nurse in Joe’s room stepped out to make space for the foursome. Dixie, Sadie, Richard, and Sharon crowded around Joe’s bed, mindful of the wires and beeping machines.
Richard rested his hand on Joe’s shoulder, and asked softly, “Hey Joe, how are you my friend?”
The old man’s eyes flickered, blearily trying to focus. A slight smile crinkled their corners as he recognized his visitors. He licked his lips and cleared his throat, testing his voice. “I’m alright, pastor,” he croaked. “How’s Kenny?” His eyes searched Richard’s face.
“Not good, friend. He’s in surgery. We’re praying.”
Joe closed his eyes and nodded. “I love that boy. I wish to God he’d take me instead.”
Around the lump in her throat Dixie said, “Thank you for loving him Joe. But we don’t want to lose you either.”
The old man smiled faintly. “Bless you, Dixie girl.”
“Joe, we know you need to rest but we wanted you to know we love you and are here for you. Let me pray with you before we say goodnight.” The white head nodded again. “Father in heaven, we lift our friend up to you. Thank you for his example of love and selflessness. Won’t you please care for his needs. Touch his body and restore his health. Give his doctors and nurses wisdom and skill. We are thankful for your merciful care. Amen.”
“Amen,” came a hoarse whisper from the bed.
Each person kissed the gray head and whispered their love.
Back at the nurses station Richard asked Kelly how to get to Kenny. “You’ll go down to the second floor, turn right when you get off the elevator and follow the signs for the O.R. There is a waiting room you can use. Let the nurse at the desk know you would like to be updated on his progress.” She added with concern, “I hope he’s okay.”
In the waiting room they sat with their own thoughts, quiet, and somber, oblivious to the bustle around them. Each minute stretched out, increasing their fears. Sharon and Richard sat side by side, her head rested on his shoulder. It was approaching 10:00. How long had they been working on Kenny?
Sadie and Dixie sat together facing Dixie’s parents. Sadie was worried about her friend. “How are you doing Dixie? What are you thinking?”
“I’m afraid, Sadie. I’m thinking about the conversations we had. Kenny just wanted to be loved. He just wanted to be accepted. He wasn’t unkind to anyone. He didn’t push an agenda. He had a lot of questions.” Dixie held her head in her hands. “And I wonder, did any of them get answered? Did he find what he was looking for? I wish... I wish I had done more for him.”
Sadie held her friend’s hand. Her lips trembled with emotion. “I know, Dixie. I know.”
A door at the end of the waiting room banged open, surprising the tired group. A tall, middle-aged doctor in scrubs approached them. They all stood expectantly.
“Are you Kenny McNab’s friends?” They nodding eagerly. He extended his hand. “I’m Dr. Harris. Folks, I’m sorry. There was extensive damage to the brain tissue. Bleeding and swelling were severe, we couldn’t get him stabilized. We did all we could but the wound was catastrophic.”
“What are you saying?” Dixie’s mouth felt like she was chewing cotton, she could hardly form the words. Blood rushed in her ears, her knees began to shake. She looked at Dr. Harris, truly confused.
“I’m sorry.” Those eyes. Eyes that had seen death a thousand times, and still resented it. “Your friend is brain dead.”
The world swam. She felt her parent’s arms around her, on either side, holding her up. Sadie thanked Dr. Harris. He told them to let himself or the nurse know if they needed anything. Dixie’s stomach was in her knees. How! How could this happened! Why didn’t she! What if she! No! Oh, God, no!
For five or ten minutes they stood that way, crying, all of them, over a life that hadn’t been wanted, at least at first. Dixie cried herself out in a broken flow of rage. And then peace fell, blanketing her heart. She felt still, calm, numb. “I need to see him.”
“Dixie, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Sharon Looked worried about her daughter, no doubt she felt the need to protect her.
“No, mom. I need to see him.”
“Let her see him, Sharon.” Her dad had been at many deathbeds, he had come to understand the need for goodbye.
While Sadie went to tell the nurse Dixie’s request, Dixie blew her nose and wiped her eyes. In a few minutes a nurse appeared at the door Dr. Harris had come through. She offered a compassionate smile. “He’s on life support. He is brain dead, there was nothing left to be done, but his driver’s license indicates that he is an organ donor. The machines will keep his organs in good shape until they can be recovered. Even though a machine is breathing for him it doesn’t mean he’s alive. I just wanted you to understand. You can come back with me and I’ll take you to him.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Sadie asked her friend.
Dixie stepped away from the group and turned. “No, I need a minute alone with him.”
The three watched Dixie follow the nurse through the door, back straight, hair tossing like a mane. She would not be broken. She would be faithful to the very end. And they loved her for it.
Dixie followed the nurse into the sterile room and moved to stand by her friend, the warmth of life still in him. Her fingers reached out and touched his fair cheek. The team had cleaned him up and draped his head to hide the wound. It didn’t hide the bruise on his temple from the beating. Tears dropped on the pillow. She whispered, “Oh, friend. I’m sorry. So sorry, for so many things. I just want you to know, you were loved. I hope you know you were loved.” A nurse busied herself in the corner of the room with a piece of equipment, maintaining a discreet distance. Suddenly a thought shot through Dixie like lightning. She called to the nurse in the room. “My friend needs a kidney transplant. I know Kenny would want to help! Do you know if he’s a match?”
The nurse snapped to attention. “Let me find out.”
In a few minutes Dr. Harris appeared. “Are you talking about a patient in the hospital?”
“Yes, can we find out if Kenny is a match?”
“The OPO team is on their way. They will start testing and should have an answer soon. There is no reason why his kidneys can’t be used. If he is a match I don’t see why the transplant can’t happen right away. Of course that’s their call. We can keep you updated.” He turned to go. Looking back he said again, “I’m sorry about your friend. Very sorry.”
Dixie appreciated the compassion in his eyes, that seeing death hundreds of times hadn’t left his heart incapable of feeling the tragedy of another life lost.
Alone in the room now she took one last moment with Kenny. His face looked like a carving of a young Greek god. His fair skin was smooth, his features chiseled and almost pretty. She couldn’t see the cleft in his chin well because of the tubes. Dixie wanted to remember what he looked like. She realized she didn’t have any pictures of him. There was so much she wanted to say. She wished she had gone to see him like she had planned that afternoon.
Her hand held his. The sense of responsibility to protect him wasn’t easy to shake. A rock sat in her heart, built of regret and loss. She wasn’t ready for this relationship to end. She had hoped for better for Kenny. Impulsively she leaned forward and kissed his temple. “God be with you.” Unable to take the pain another minute she slipped into the hall, leaned her back against the wall, buried her head in her hands and sobbed.