Christian Short Stories

Hands in Prayer
By John Miller

John Miller writes: "I'm a retired engineer serving Christ in prison ministry."

“Hey, I was asleep! Turn that light out and be quiet! “Frank complained. The middle-aged businessman was in his 2nd day of recovery from hip surgery had earned his reputation by his constant griping and complaints to the nurses called to his bedside. The nurse’s ward had soon chosen to ignore the frequent “buzzing” from the annoying patient nicknamed “Bed “B”.

“Sorry Mr. Parks, it’s about 2:00 am. We will be only a few moments and we need the light on,” replied one nurse. They worked efficiently and quickly to settle the new patient into bed “A.” One nurse wrote the new patient’s name and a few vitals on the white board opposite his bed.

“Bill Morris,” so that’s this guy’s name,” Frank noted to himself. “I wonder what’s wrong with him. I sure hope he’s not contagious.” The nurses didn’t respond as they left the room in darkness again. Frank turned, away hoping to fall asleep. It wasn’t long before Bill’s deep and prolonged moaning woke him. “Buzz! Buzz!” His unanswered ringing continued until Frank fell asleep to the incessant nearby moans from bed “A.”

The 6:00 am rounds brought the usual traffic of nurses shuffling and talking loudly outside room 104. Frank awoke to light in the room and heard unintelligible and weak murmurings from his new room mate. A nurse attending to Bill had opened his privacy curtain to place monitoring equipment at this bedside. Frank leaned up to see the thin, frail figure of a very old man. “What’s wrong with him? He moaned all night!” Didn’t you hear me buzzing you?” Frank protested. “The doctor will see him later today,” was the nurse’s only reply. She pulled the privacy curtain into place as she continued her work on the old man.

“Mr. Morris, I can’t understand you, please speak louder,” Nurse Denton asked. The old man seemed desperate to tell her something but his voice was nothing more than a broken whisper. He raised his trembling, bony arms, only to have them fall sharply onto the bed rails. “You’re too weak to swing your arms,” the nurse commented. “Now, don’t bruise your arm or tear your skin or we will have to restrain you.” Bill’s frail fingers grabbed at the cold railing as he pointed an age- bent finger to the ceiling. His gesture went unnoticed, as did his quivering lips. His nurse left to continue her 9:00 am rounds and missed what would be one of Bill’s fleeting moments of lucidity. He wanted someone to listen to him but knew the disappointing experience only too well. The old man had spent six years in convalescent homes after a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed and with little voice and a badly-slurred speech. By age 75, he had come to know an aching, endless loneliness and the uncaring looks of his busy attendants whose every duty was mechanical and detached from their patients. His mind wandered and reality blurred with insanity. His badly failing heart had landed him in the hospital.

Bill’s lucid moments had become fewer day. They were a blessing at first, when he recalled memories his wife and family. He strained to put names to familiar faces. More often than not he got them wrong. No visitors had come for several years, especially after his wife Mary has passed away. Now, his clear moments brought only mental anguish and anxiety, as he fought to recall his name; his past life. Images of homes in construction invaded his fading mind. Had had been a building contractor and worked many years in all parts of the trade. His tough, worn and knurled hands were now feeble and trembled badly. Cursing had been a routine habit at work and his bad temper had isolated him from any true friendships. So, he found a friend in the whiskey bottle that for years kept him from his wife and kids. Now, advanced heart disease, terrible chest pain, fever and dehydration were his only friends. They never left him. This was his third hospitalization in weeks. The paramedics who had brought him to the hospital this early morning didn’t expect him to come out alive. He had overheard the ER doctor telling his nurse that he had only days to live. Bill almost welcomed death, except the uncertainty of an afterlife gripped him in fear. No one looked at his face except to check the dilatation of his pupils. A constant drool from quivering lips was ignored; no one saw his mental agony. Morphine was administered and the old patient had been moved to room 104 as a welcome sleep came.

Daylight and noise of the busy ward awakened Bill to rare, lucid moments. “Where am I?” He wondered. The hospital sounds seemed familiar to him. “I’m going to die soon, alone in a hospital” he knew. “Have I ever known God?” Church had not been important to him, although his wife, Mary, had often pleaded with him to go to Sunday service with her. She had worshiped her God, and alone had borne the responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of his four children. Bill’s god had been his work and money and in past years, the bottle. These gods were all gone now. His home and possessions had been sold to fund his convalescence living. His meager living accommodations at the convalescent home consisted of a twin bed, nightstand, closet, wheelchair and wet diapers. Bill’s fading pride disallowed any pleasure in his surroundings. His ungrateful, seemingly pouting manner with his sons and daughters had driven them away, years ago. His only communication with them came about through infrequent calls in which he stuttered indiscernibly and heard very few of their words. The silence from both ends of the phone call spoke volumes about his fading worth. He had often slammed the phone receiver down in frustration. The eventuality of his remaining fate was cast in the stone-like, frail faces of his aged neighbors, slumped over in wheel chairs parked along the hallways. His days were numbered and he realized that he would die alone. Now, in the hospital, his mind turned to the fear that gripped him, death. What was going to happen? Where was he going? Who cared? He knew nothing about God; nothing about prayer.

“Mary often told me to talk to God,” Bill said to himself, God will listen if you will just seek His mercy,” she had said. “Was there any point in trying to reach out for God now,” Bill wondered. “Why would he take me to be in heaven with him after all my years of ignoring him, after all the bad things I’ve done?” Bill’s weak eyes looked at his thin and trembling hands. “Mary used to fold her hands in prayer,” he recalled. For a long while, he looked at his hands, turning the palms up and over. “These old, worn out hands worked hard for me,” he thought. Mary had said that his hands were God’s gift so that he could provide for his family. “She would praise God for my hands,” he remembered. It seemed silly to him at the time. “Maybe they are my connection with God,” Bill thought. “Maybe I can just pray with them? I don’t know the words to say.”

“God, are you watching,” he asked. "I’m going to pray with my hands. I don’t speak too well but you know what I’m doing, don’t you?”

Breakfast was served, and the nurse left the privacy curtain partly open, so that Frank could see the old man in Bed “A.” He looked up from his breakfast tray to see the old man’s trembling hands turned up and slightly raised and moving in various gestures “What are you doing, old man?” Frank inquired. There was no answer from Bill. “You better try to eat something,” Frank said. Bill wasn’t listening. His weary, drawn eyes were fixed on his hands. “The old fool can’t hear or he’s just loony,” Frank thought as he continued to watch the old man’s antics. “I’ll get his orange juice when the nurse comes in.”

Bill’s thin arms soon tired of lifting his hands and they fell to his side, just missing his breakfast tray. “God, do you seen me showing you my hands?” He asked in a slurred, indistinguishable whisper. “They are calloused from working all those years and my fingernails are all busted from hammers. My knuckles are scarred from saw blades and wood splinters,” he added. “But I’m supposed to thank you, Mary told me. Thank you for my good hands, Lord. Is that OK? These old hands did all that you asked me to do to make a living. They got hurt plenty but never wore out. Did you hear me, Lord?” Bill folded his hands like a child in prayer and brought them near his neck, where they trembled badly. “Lord, I feel like you might be listening,” he murmured. His fingers touched his chin to feel straggly whiskers. “Lord, I’m old but you know that,” Bill whispered, as tears fell on is cheeks. He made a fist and looked at it. “God, you saw me use my hands to fight some guys on the job when I was drinking. I suppose you don’t like that. I’m sorry, God. No more fists.”

Morphine was again administered and Bill’s mind faded away. He began moaning softly, then loudly until sleep overtook him.

“Finally!” Frank remarked. "That crazy old man is quiet.” He had turned up the TV to drown out Bill’s annoying moans. He buzzed the nurse for Bill’s orange juice. No response.

That afternoon, the nurse came to Bill’s bedside. “Wake up Mr. Morris, the doctor will be in to see you in a few minutes,” she said. She shook the old man until he showed signs of waking. From his near-stupor, Bill tried to speak but his voice was a whispered chatter of incoherent sounds. “No need to fuss, Mr. Morris,” she added. “Just relax, we have you on fluids because you were badly dehydrated,” she added. Bill tried to reach her as she pulled away. His left arm fell on the bed rail, tearing his skin. “Oh, now we’re going to have to bandage that wound,” the nurse protested. “You must not lift your arms so high. You’re too weak, Mr. Morris.” She won’t listen to me,” Bill protested to himself; no one listens!”

“God, are you still there?” Bill murmured. “I slept a while, I guess.” He returned to his hands of prayer. “What can I do to pray with my hands, Lord?” he asked. “Did I fold them right for prayer? Should I rest them on my chest,” Mary sometimes prayed aloud, with her hands folded on her chest. Was that OK with you, Lord?” “Do you know what the doctor is going to tell me today?” “Lord, I’m too old for much fussing in hospitals. My pain is so hard. Can I just go home with you?” he asked. “Mary often said that you were merciful, is that true? Will you show me mercy and forgive me my sins?” he asked. At that, Bill wrenched his bony hands together in anguish. “I’ve sinned plenty, God. Oh, I remember as a child, hearing about Jesus on the Cross. Was he really your son? Did he really die for the sins of man? Lord, I never read the Bible. Mary told me that she believed in Jesus’ finished work on the cross to save sinners who were sorry for their sins against you. Is that what I’m supposed to do now? Believe? Can you help me believe in Jesus? Lord, I can’t speak very well. Can you see my hands praying?” Bill lifted his thin, tired arms higher than he had in days. He twisted his wrists and flailed his arms wildly, moaning aloud.

“Hey, old fella, you’re going to hurt yourself again," Frank told him. Bill didn’t respond but continued to flail his arms. Frank buzzed for the nurse. For once, she responded. “What do you need, Mr. Parks?" She asked over the speaker at Frank’s bedside. “I don’t need anything but the old man is hurting himself again. He’s banging his arms on the bedrail. You better come take a look.”

“Mr. Morris, we can’t have you injuring your arms. I’m going to place them in restraints to protect you,” the attending nurse remarked. Bill’s wrists were tied at his sides just inches from the bedrails. Tears streamed from his tired eyes and his lips chattered as he tried to plead for release. His voice was indiscernible to the nurse who busily went about her duty. Bill moaned loudly from deep within; his means of prayer now taken from him, “God, did you see me praying? What am I going to do now?" He moaned loudly.

“Hush, old man, and try to get some sleep,” Frank remarked. “You’ll be OK. “Besides, when the doctor comes in, he’ll probably take you out of the restraints. “You got any family?”

Bill thought he felt the soft touch of an angel’s wings, as his mind drifted away. He did not answer Frank.

“Mr. Morris, wake up,” the doctor prodded the old man and taking his pulse found none. Bill had gone home.

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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