A nursing home is a perilous place to love; as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, 'People come and go so quickly here.' Residents recover and go home, or get transferred to other facilities, or die. Even if they stay, dementia can take them to another place, though they occupy their same bed and chair; a change in medication can turn your friend into an enemy overnight; or a stroke can completely change a personality. But even knowing all that, there are some you can't help loving, and Pastor Nathaniel Brown was one of those.
Nathaniel arrived sometime in January and at first I thought he couldn't speak. After all, the two other men at his table couldn't speak, and whenever I greeted him he responded with, at most, a grunt and a nod.
So in February, when I was getting together a list of residents who wanted communion, I almost skipped him. But as I walked away I felt a holy nudge, and so to do due diligence I said, “Hey, Nathaniel, if we offer communion on Good Friday, would you be interested?”
And he looked me in the eye, his whole face lit up, and he said, “I bet you didn’t know that I’m the pastor of the old Pentecostal Tabernacle in the city. Been there for 30 years…” He went on talking, and I ended up having to go and get a chair; and then he preached me a flawless 40-minute sermon on the Holy Ghost!
After that I always called him “Pastor Brown,” and we had him close us in prayer at Wednesday Bible Study. He started giving me great feedback to pass along to the young men who preach for us. Starting in March, every time I came in he'd wheel himself out and wait for me, and when he saw me he'd throw his arms open and give me a hug and a sloppy ol’ kiss on the cheek. In short, he became special. It seemed safe enough; he was a long-term resident and was likely to be there for the rest of his life.
I visited with him every Sunday and Wednesday, and just listened to whatever he wanted to say. He told me about dialysis, and about his family and some of his history; he fought at Okinawa and had plenty of stories.
Early in April he beckoned me over and said, “My daughter told me she’s looking for a new place for me to live. Pray for me about this.”
So I prayed dutifully, only once giving in and praying selfishly, “Please let the Community Care Center (CCC) be the best place for him.” But I know how hard it is to find placement for somebody, so I wasn’t too concerned.
I went to see him on Sunday afternoon to give him my card and tell him to call me when he found out what was going on, but when I went to his room he was asleep, so I prayed by his bed and left. But when I went to see him on Wednesday he was gone. His family just came in and said, "Pack your things Dad- we've found you a new place." I didn't get to say goodbye. Nobody did.
Since I don’t work there, and am not his family, they’re not allowed to tell me anything that’s considered personal information, so I was not able to find out where he’d gone.
I still wasn't too worried; he's invited me to come sit with him at dialysis, and I figured I could track him down that way. He told me his appointments were Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at 10 AM, and he described the facility in great detail (though he didn't know the name of it). That night I did some research, and found the only dialysis facility in the city that matched his description to a T. So on Saturday I took myself up to the facility, to the facility he described.
They're closed on Saturday.
This was Strike One.
On Sunday I went round in faith to his friends at the CCC and asked them to sign a card, figuring I'd go up on Wednesday. Some of them went to HUGE lengths to scribble something down. They had no idea what had happened to him; not even his roommates - and there was a bit of trauma among his particular associates. I was able to allay this somewhat and give them at least the closure of signing the card.
So on Monday I called the facility I'd found to confirm he was coming on Wednesday, and they said, "He's not in our database." They're the Regional Kidney Centers, and they do most of the dialysis in this area. Next I called the private company, which does 90% of the dialysis the RKC doesn't do. He wasn't theirs either. So I called all the unaffiliated dialysis centers, and nobody claimed him. It was like he didn’t exist.
I had struck out; all I had was his description of the facility. And I didn’t even know how reliable that was. After all, he just said to me a month ago, "I'm doing all my dialysis in up here now! I used to go to SanFrancisco on Monday, San Diego on Wednesday, and Seattle on Saturday, but now I'm all in Seattle, praise God."
I know he's a veteran, so as my last-ditch effort I called the VA on Tuesday. Over the course of several hours I talked with six very kind and sympathetic people who couldn't help me at all because I didn't know the last four digits of his social security number and that is their ONLY search criterion. I ended up calling a 206- number (The Seattle area code) and talking to a very nice lady who said she could help me navigate the bureaucracy. At one point I said, "He lives in South King County; why would he have to go all the way to Seattle to dialyze?" and she said, "I don't really know where you mean....I'm in Kansas."
I got frustrated and said, "I didn't think ‘where does the VA send people for dialysis in Seattle’ was such a difficult question." She was silent, then said, "Oh. Well, if that’s what you’re asking, as far as I understand it, unless there's some problem he'd dialyze at a VA hospital." So I called the VA hospital and confirmed that they DO do dialysis there, though they were unable to tell me whether he had an appointment for Tuesday at 10, because I don't know his "last 4". I decided to run up there the next day, just to see, on the off chance that he was there.
Wednesday morning I was really feeling like I should NOT go on this wild goose chase. There really wasn't much hope, I had a lot to do, and it was the end of the homeschool year and my kids had to do math! But a bigger concern was that I'd never been there. I'd just had eye surgery and my depth perception was a bit goofy. I also felt fairly stupid and vaguely creepy, tracking him down like this. But at the last minute, a good friend who is also on dialysis encouraged me to go and said, “Oh, that will bless his socks off!”
So I grudgingly took the four youngest kids and we went up to Seattle, mathbooks and all.
The directions from the VA website were wrong, but the GPS got me within hailing distance of the hospital. But even then, I very nearly turned back. I pulled into one very long, twisty aisle of the parking lot, and found that there were no free spaces AND the other end was blocked off. It was a dead end in a narrow lot with no place to turn around. So I backed up 100 yards down the twisty lot....with one eye…in a 15-passenger van. I just wanted to go home, but having come so far it seemed a pity to waste it, so I prayed and kept backing.
After much maneuvering, I finally got a space, and in we went, kids, mathbooks and all. We regrouped inside and read the information placard. Renal Dialysis: 5th floor, so we went to the elevator. I told my youngest button-pusher “Five, please.”
“But Mommy, there’s only four.”
Sure enough, there were only 4 floors. We tried another elevator.4 floors. We must’ve gotten the location wrong. I asked at a desk. Yes, dialysis is on the 5th floor, he told me, and when I asked about the elevators not going all the way to 5, he looked at the neon green medalert bracelet I have to wear until my eye heals, and his expression showed he was clearly thinking it was MY elevator that didn't go all the way to 5.
But then a little lady behind him said, "I’ve been up there. I’ll take you up...all of our elevators except one stop at the 4th floor." So she led us through this convoluted maze of passages and rooms and doorways marked "Do not enter," until at last we came to the Only Elevator that Goes to the 5th Floor.
The lady at the dialysis check-in desk had no information, and directed me to the nurses. So I went back and said, very hesitantly, to the nurse, "I'm here for Nathaniel Brown - do you know when he'll arrive?"
I cannot describe the joy I felt when she pointed to a bed and said, "There he is. He's just now finishing, and his driver won’t be here for 45 minutes. Why don’t they get him into his chair for you and then you can take him out and have a nice chat; he'll enjoy that."
He looked over then, and when he saw me he started yelling. ”Hey! Lookit, everybody! My pastor come for me!”(I can’t get him to stop calling me Pastor. He’s an 80-year-old Georgia preacher, and considers he has the authority to decide who is a pastor and who is not).
I took him out to a spot in the hallway where I could observe the children doing math, and I told him about my search. And then I knelt down by his chair and gave him his card and showed him all the messages from those he left behind.
"I'm so glad you come for me," he said with wide eyes. "I never thought anybody would come searching for me."
I looked up at him and answered, "You know the Book, Pastor Brown. 'What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one, will not light all the lamps and sweep out all the corners carefully until she finds it?' I was just sweeping out the corners." .
And he grinned so wide I thought his face would split in two.
He gave me his phone number and address at his new place and told me not to forget him. I reminded him that he had been constantly in my prayers, and he said, "I want you to pray for me right now." So he took my hand and I laid the other hand on his shoulder, and we prayed together, right there in the renal dialysis hallway. He’s Pentecostal, and prays very dynamically, but everyone just smiled at us and walked around. Except for one burly orderly who punched each of us lightly on the shoulder and said, “That’s Scripture you’re praying, Man, I’m going to post that on Facebook today….”
When his driver arrived, he gave me a hug and a happy kiss on the cheek, and I kissed his forehead and told him “Safe travel, Pastor Brown. Go with God.”
And as the driver pushed him away down the hallway, I heard him talking animatedly. “You see that lady who give me the kiss of peace? She’s a pastor I worked with at the CCC. She come all the way up here to find me, and she just kept sweepin’ out the corners until she found me….”
So Pastor Brown knew that he was loved, and not forgotten.
Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.