Communion

“I don’t want to die,” he said to me as I stood by his bedside in the intensive care unit. My medical training and experience told me that his body was in very precarious condition as far into failure as any human can be and still live.  His heart had failed and his kidneys had failed; not enough myocardium to pump enough blood to sustain his renal function. I knew that even with the form of dialysis he underwent continuously, kidney function would not return for this patient. Still, remarkably, his mind was sharp, anxiety high and fear with every breath he took.

“Are you in pain?”  I asked. “No pain but I am so scared,” he said with tears starting to stream down his cheeks. He was childlike in his fear. I found a tissue and wiped them. Many of my patients at this point don’t have fear but an acceptance. Not this patient and not at this time. “Please don’t leave me,” he implored. I wasn’t going to leave. Instead, I pulled up a chair and sat next to his bedside; signaled the rest of the team to finish rounds without me.

“Please don’t let me die,” he stated, as the dialysis machine alarmed when he moved enough to disturb the temporary access catheter in his neck that I had placed when he came into the hospital. “Not this evening and not now,” I said. “But let us talk about the things on your mind, right now,” I said. His brow furrows eased and he took a deep breath.

I found some grape juice and a bit of bread from his dinner tray. “Let me offer the Eucharist,” I asked. “It’s about sharing a communion between two people even though I know you are Jewish,” I said. I spoke the words that I had learned from childhood in the Anglican Church. He shared the “wine and bread” with me. I prayed, without shame, with him, the mystery of my faith to be shared with anyone of any faith which equals a communion of connection because Christ for me, means the messiah, and savior in present life.

He fell asleep and certainly didn’t die. His renal failure is permanent; I would place a fistula which matured so that he might undergo dialysis three times weekly. He moved to a rehabilitation center where I often stop by to visit. I share the Eucharist with him when I drop in. His mind bored by his surroundings; sometimes deep depression. My great honor as a physician is to commune and connect. My faith overlaps my medical and scientific training. I am reminded that St. Luke was a physician after all.

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